Tag Archives: Foreign Policy

Two Links On The President’s IS Speech 09/10/2014

Here are some links on the President’s IS speech, all written before the speech, because I suppose we’ll see how much has really changed in the last few hours.

It’s tough to see how one degrades and destroys IS without ground-action, as well as coalitions of people who trust our leadership and strategy enough with their interests, as we pursue our interests in the manner laid out in the above link.

From Blackfive:

First, let us bring in four brief (not all encompassing) but important lessons learned from the last foray into Iraq (and Afghanistan).

  1. We didn’t pressure Turkey enough to allow use of their territory/airspace.
  2. We didn’t go after Iran for killing our troops and Iraqi civilians.
  3. We didn’t surge soon enough.
  4. We needed more troops during almost every major initiative.

So, questions for the President about our defense would start with:

Click through for more.

Michael Totten: Iraq’s Kurdish Firewall:

‘I doubt the Kurds will get sucked into a war with Iraq’s Shia population, but it’s possible. What’s more striking about this and other recent developments is that Iraq’s Kurds are frequently fighting outside their autonomous region in the northern three provinces.

They’re doing it defensively—they have no interest in conquering and annexing Arab parts of the country—but they’re doing it nevertheless.’

The Kurds have a thankless task, and given the giant mess the Shia coalitions have made of the government and military (also with plenty of Iranian control), the disenfranchised Sunnis which have been supporting IS in some cases and don’t appear ready to have another Anbar awakening and surge, and given the continued Civil War between IS as part of rebel groups against the Assad regime in Syria, I’m not sure Iraq and Syria have anything resembling viable governments and the will to form, fight and die for anything resembling viable governments under current borders and conditions.

Can anyone defeat IS at the moment?

The Saudis, UAE, and even European partners must see a larger strategy for their own interests in order to buy-in, having been given many reasons to doubt Obama’s words, commitments and leadership.

At the moment, I choose to see a humanitarian idealist President, reluctantly dragged to this point, and generally not committed to any overarching strategy using force because the use of force and boots on the ground don’t line up with his own ideological commitments and worldview, despite much evidence to the contrary.

Feel free to highlight my ignorance.

Addition:  I’m profoundly not looking forward to the prospect of war, and IS is more of an upgraded Al Qaeda threat at the moment rather than some looming titan.  This means thousands of jihadis flocking to the area, as well as some from our shores with American passports.  They have a large platform now.

To the libertarian folks interested in peace, I’d suggest to think of all the State security apparatus like the Department Of Homeland Security that have grown up since 9/11, and the possibility of what would happen should another attack occur on our soil.  It looks as though attacking and containing IS now is a good deal better than a possibly neurotic ever-expanding bureuacracy hamstrung by silly rules and the low probabilities but high consequences of another terrorist attack.

Ally yourselves with the more pro-peace Left and you tend to get all the impulses Statism and progressive utopianism create, but you’ll still have to go to war at times, but not even have politicians be able to tell much truth about why.  This will be defending a lot you don’t believe in (like legalized pot leads to State revenue and more bureaucracy and questionable incentives).  A big, rotting hulk of a thing.  An indebted, illiberal mess with horrible incentives.

Ally yourselves with those who are more pro-war on the Right and you tend to get a strong defense but many incentives leading to more Statism and supporting institutions that also interfere with individual liberty, like the Department Of Homeland Security and a lot of the waste in military procurement and constant defense build-up, sometimes without much direction.   Many incentives are off right-now, but the actual common defense logic compels much of this forward.  There are genuine threats, and freedom costs lives and sacrifice, whether for trade-routes, for limited government etc.

These are hard choices.

Battling against Islamism and such militants is going to take awhile, whatever form it takes.

I’m all ears to alternatives in order to do so, and logic to explain those possible alternatives that shows a pretty good understanding of our challenges.

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Walter Russell Mead on the logic that has led Obama to this point:

‘So America’s Middle East policy is in a mess, and the last thing President Obama wanted to do was to launch a new war in the Middle East on the anniversary of 9/11. He didn’t say it in so many words, but he didn’t need to: it’s clear to everyone that we are where we are because his chosen policies did not work. His diagnosis was off, and his prescriptions failed. The patient got sicker under his care, and the problem is going to be harder, more painful, more expensive to treat than it could have been.’

It seems our President might be happier amongst a group of assorted pro-peace activists and sometime radicals in about 1968 or 1972 or so…somewhere between a meeting hall scattered with leaflets and the faculty lounge.

IS, The Middle-East & Some Political Philosophy-A Few Links

From The New Republic:

‘Other Muslims have romanticized the time of the early caliphs—but by occupying a large area and ruling it for more than a year, the Islamic State can claim to be their heirs more plausibly than any recent jihadist movement. It has created a blood-soaked paradise that groups like Al Qaeda contemplated only as a distant daydream.’

And IS is creating a very dangerous security threat, as they’re operationally and tactically smart, tend to learn from their mistakes in battle, and are quite aware of their message enough to recruit thousands of fighters from the West, possibly sending them back here.

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AlsoFrom Slate: ‘In Aleppo, Syria, Mohamed Atta Thought He Could Build The Ideal Islamic City’Lawrence Wright At The New Yorker: ‘The Man Behind Bin Laden’ Repost-Philip Bobbitt Discusses His Book ‘Terror And Consent’ On Bloggingheads

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Adam Garfinkle at The American Interest:

‘Muddled though the region is, the basics are fairly simple. Iranian influence through Assad and his thugs in Syria, through Hizballah in Lebanon, and through the hopefully retiring Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq, has widened and radicalized sectarian conflict in the region, and the growing weakness of most of the Arab states in the face of this multi-year offensive has led to rogue groups like ISIS taking up the slack.’

And a grand bargain with the Iranian regime is presumably what Obama is still betting on, as well as withdrawing our influence from the region on the idea that we can no longer lead as we have in the past.

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Francis Fukuyama at the American Interest: ‘Political Order And Political Decay

Are you on board for a grand tour of the historical development of the Western State via Fukuyama’s intellectual conception of that State?:

‘There is one critical point of continuity between Huntington’s analysis and my own, however, which many recent development theorists seem to have forgotten. The bottom line of Political Order in Changing Societies could be summarized as follows: all good things do not go together.’

Fukuyama has a considerable investment over the years in a Hegelian Statism I’m not comfortable with.  One can find there a belief in the betterment of man towards some teleological end-point through the perfection of the State and those who work for their own self-interest in it.

What might Fukuyama have right about the development of the State in the rest of the world, and Western influence upon that development?

Related On This Site:  From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s WorkFrom The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel HuntingtonFrom Foreign Affairs Via The A & L Daily: ‘Conflict Or Cooperation: Three Visions Revisited’

Francis Fukuyama has started a center for Public Administration at Stanford…it’d be interesting to imagine a conversation between Eric Hoffer and Fukuyama: Francis Fukuyama At The American Interest: ‘Mexico And The Drug Wars’…Has Fukuyama turned away from Hegel and toward Darwin?Update And Repost-Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

You Can Be Anything You Want-A Few Sunday Links

From this piece here as previously posted, lots of food for thought, including mention of Samuel Huntington and Francis Fukuyama:

‘ And isn’t the great foreign-policy debate of our time—whether America should continue its post–Cold War policy of interventionism in the name of American exceptionalism and Western universalism; or whether it should abandon that mission in favor of a more measured exercise of its military and economic power—fundamentally a debate over whether Spengler had it right?’

Well worth a read.

How active is American exceptionalism when it comes to American foreign policy, and will the propensity for American idealism and exuberance find channels other than exceptionalism?

Is it merely dormant?

Robert Kaplan’s brief summation of Samuel Huntington’s ideas here:

“• The fact that the world is modernizing does not mean that it is Westernizing. The impact of urbanization and mass communications, coupled with poverty and ethnic divisions, will not lead to peoples’ everywhere thinking as we do.

• Asia, despite its ups and downs, is expanding militarily and economically. Islam is exploding demographically. The West may be declining in relative influence.

• Culture-consciousness is getting stronger, not weaker, and states or peoples may band together because of cultural similarities rather than because of ideological ones, as in the past.

• The Western belief that parliamentary democracy and free markets are suitable for everyone will bring the West into conflict with civilizations—notably, Islam and the Chinese—that think differently.

• In a multi-polar world based loosely on civilizations rather than on ideologies, Americans must reaffirm their Western identity.”

Worth thinking about.  His Political Order In Changing Societies challenged modernization theory.

The baby-boomers are still talking about themselves, and perhaps it’s still important.

A line by O’Rourke which stirs  libertarian sympathies:

We’re creating a political system upon which everybody is dependent.’

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Did the 60’s counter-culture and the conservative counter-counter culture both win, in a sense?

Christopher Hitchens, William F. Buckley and Peter Robinson discuss below, including the sexual revolution:

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Things Are Heating Up In Ukraine

Lilia Shevtsova At The American Interest ‘Putin Ends The Interregnum:’

‘What a mess Putin has gotten us all into! But let’s also give him his due: He has paved the way for the emergence of new trends—or at least he’s called the existing ones into serious question. He has also facilitated the formation of Ukrainian national identity, ensuring that the country will never again become a mere extension of Russia. He has thus undermined his own dream—that of creating the Eurasian Union. He has precipitated a crisis in his own country, making its future path completely unpredictable. And finally, he has reminded NATO of its mission and prompted the liberal democracies to reflect on their own principles.’

It seems there’s a Russian ethno-nationalist core Putin’s playing to aside from the clear interest in Crimea and a corridor that means splitting Ukraine in two.  Just how Putin defines that core in order to play-up to Russian pride, nostalgia and national security via his own power via a cagey ex-KGB, authoritarian, petro-Czar ruling-style is up for debate.

Over at the New Republic, they’re going to have to work harder to figure out how to maintain humanist, Left-liberal ideals in the face of such meddling and aggression (they might have to think about rebuilding the Peretz wall separating a kind of liberalism from full-on Lefty activism that new ownership has since removed):

Putin Will Never, Ever Admit That Russia Has Invaded Ukraine

‘The Kremlin will continue to deny its involvement in Ukraine, and the U.S. and E.U. will take their time calling this an outright invasion. Russia has made its objectives in Ukraine clear, and has signalled its resolute unwillingness to participate in military negotiations while its political concerns go unresolved.’

It’s pretty clear the Georgia model is in play, to some extent.  Ukraine’s economy is weak, and its civil institutions very corrupt, but Putin’s aims are pretty clear.

An interesting interview with an American volunteer with Army experience and Ukrainian roots who’s joined the fight.  A surprisingly reasonable-sounding guy via VICE:

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Via a reader: George Kennan’s ‘Long Telegram’ back to Washington in 1946.

From Vlad’s pen to NY Times readers’ eyes.

Also On This Site: Obama’s Decision On Missile Defense And A Quote From Robert Kagan’s: ‘The Return Of History And The End Of Dreams’From The National Interest: ‘Inside The Mind Of George F. Kennan’

Some Links On Foreign Policy & Ukraine…Kasparov, Kerry, Putin & Obama?-Some Links On Ukraine

James Baker At The NY Times: ‘3 Presidents and a Riddle Named Putin’

Nearly three years ago now: Eric Posner At The Volokh Conspiracy: The Bear Is Back!

So, No Reset Then?-A Saturday Link

Putin announced the re-opening of an old base in Cuba, where the rotten Communist regime keeps chugging along, its people still immiserated.

Of course, Putin is an old KGB guy, who learned a lot of tricks on how to keep power in the waning days of the Soviet empire.  More recently, he’s been aggressively carving-up old satellites when it suits Moscow’s interests, as in Georgia and Ukraine, playing off of Russian ethno-nationalist sentiment and the fear and pride of lost empire as much as he can.

Here’s Putin, back in the 80′s, meeting Reagan.  Ho hum, just a tourist, snapping some photos and meeting, how do you say, your premier.

From The Atlantic Photo: Vladimir Putin-Action Man

‘Russia needs a strong state power and must have it. But I am not calling for totalitarianism.’

-Vladimir Putin

No, there may not be a brilliant long-game at work, and yes, there’s always a ‘seed of aggression’ when you’re dealing with Moscow, especially Putin. I’d say many Americans (too many in the media) are choosing to see the world through current rose-colored glasses of vague, one-world liberalization and democracy for all (Guantanamo, for all its faults, is probably a more pressing issue for the current administration when it comes to Cuba, which says a lot).

A harsher, more realist turn could serve us well right now. We need strategy: to be fluid and clever, while building alliances and recognizing interests and promoting them to contain these kinds of shenanigans.

More here:

‘After Putin visited Cuba on Friday, the Kremlin press service said the president had forgiven 90% of Cuba’s unpaid Soviet-era debts, which totalled $32bn (£18.6bn) – a concession that now appears to be tied to the agreement to reopen the base’

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Maybe we could bring-in Rocky for some consultation, you know, just to have him around:

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Some related links on this site:

Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘The Once Great Havana’

Michael Moynihan reviewed Michael Moore’s ‘Sicko’ which praised the Cuban Health Care System.

Vladimir just wants to be friends, America: Remember that appeal in NY Times?

***Bonus-Putin and Bush’s love affair in a GAZ M-21 Volga caught on tape.  Putin sends Medvedev out to keep the flame alive with Obama on missile defense.

Are we headed toward 19th century geo-politics? I get a sorely needed refresher on the Cold War:  Obama’s Decision On Missile Defense And A Quote From Robert Kagan’s: ‘The Return Of History And The End Of Dreams’

Two Thursday Links-Michael Totten On Western Sahara & A Possible Kurdistan?

Full piece here.

Totten visits Western Sahara, ‘administered’ by Morocco, parts of it run by the renegade communist Polisario. The region’s become a sort-of proxy for tension between Morocco and the deeply repressive, authoritarian regime in Algeria and various conflicting interests:

“The Polisario wanted to impose a communist structure on nomadic populations,” she said. “I don’t believe that has changed. The same people are the leaders today as when I was young. There are still Sahrawi children in Cuba right now.”

Imagine going to Cuba for ‘education’…

.The entire Sahara-Sahel region is unstable. Egypt is ruled again by a military dictatorship. Libya is on the verge of total disintegration a la Somalia. Algeria is mired in a Soviet time warp. Northern Mali was recently taken over by Taliban-style terrorists so vicious they prompted the French to invade. At the time of this writing, US troops are hunting Nigeria’s Al Qaeda-linked Boko Haram across the border in Chad.

This blog thinks Totten’s at his best while travel-writing, weaving observation, journalism, politics and his experiences together.

Has the spread of Western liberal democracy involved socialist, communist, ‘social democratic,’ and even broadly humanist influences within a larger Western spectrum? You bet, and some of these influences have produced repressive and totalitarian hybrids still hanging-on.

On This Site See: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty” …The End Of History?: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘The Once Great Havana’

In other news…

If you’re the Kurds, you defend your turf, play it cool, gain valuable territory and bide your time:

From The Daily Beast: ‘Iraqi Kurds Declare Plans For Breakaway State:’

‘But it isn’t clear that Washington can rely on either the Turkish or Israeli governments to rebuff the Kurds. Officials from both countries argue that events are fast overtaking the Obama administration.’

Vice is embedding a reporter with the Kurds, because that’s probably the only semi-safe option amidst such instability:

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Independent Kurdistan-A Good Outcome For American Interests?

In his book Where The West Ends, Totten describes visiting Northern Iraq briefly as a tourist with a friend, and the general feeling of pro-Americanism in Kurdish Northern Iraq that generally one can only feel in Poland, parts of the former Yugoslavia etc.

Related On This Site: Longer odds, lots of risk: Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest’s Via Media: “The Rise Of Independent Kurdistan?”From Reuters: ‘Analysis: Syrian Kurds Sense Freedom, Power Struggle Awaits’

From Foreign Affairs: ‘Kurds To The Rescue’

Full piece here (published 06/17/14)

Not so fast.

Why would ISIS fight against the Peshmerga (Kurdish military forces) and the fleeing Maliki troops, and any opposition they face on the way to Baghdad?

As for the Kurds, why not just defend your land and interests, lay low and angle for the best, especially without provoking Turkey:

‘The Kurds have drawn their battle lines north of Mosul, across the south of Kirkuk province, and through northern Diyala province. So long as ISIS respects that line, Kurdistan would have very little reason to invite war.’

Why support American forces now when you’ve been burned in the past and America has so little influence?

Another VICE dispatch, talking to an Iraqi Army member having fled to Erbil, in Kurdish-controlled territory:

We could do much worse.  This blog is generally sympathetic to Kurdish aims: Independent Kurdistan-A Good Outcome For American Interests?

In his book Where The West EndsMichael Totten describes visiting Northern Iraq briefly as a tourist with a friend, and the general feeling of pro-Americanism in Kurdish Northern Iraq that generally one can only feel in Poland, parts of the former Yugoslavia etc.

Related On This Site: Longer odds, lots of risk: Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest’s Via Media: “The Rise Of Independent Kurdistan?”From Reuters: ‘Analysis: Syrian Kurds Sense Freedom, Power Struggle Awaits’

Repost-From Michael Yon: ‘The Battle For Kandahar’Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Repost-’Dexter Filkins In The NY Times: The Long Road To Chaos In Pakistan’

Some Wednesday Links-Iraq No More?

The threat Turkey faces from the chaos in Syria and Iraq, taken advantage of by ISIS and others, would have to be greater than the threat an independent Kurdistan could pose, least of all by Kurds in Turkey…to Turkish national sovereignty and security.  Erdogan has incentive to ride his own authoritarian impulses along and have some identity with the Islamic resurgence going on, if not for an ISIS-controlled Islamist State/Caliphate.

I’m guessing part of this hinges on whether or not ISIS can hold together, and if so, conceivably put the FATA region of Pakistan to shame in terms of harboring all kinds of terrorists and malcontents.

I always feel put to shame (even as a lowly blogger, no less) when Adam Garfinkle brings out some of his knowledge: ‘Iraq: What A Way To Go

‘We should therefore not attack ISIS formations, either stationary or in motion—at least not yet. We should, on the other hand, rapidly and boldly move to support Jordan, which is dealing with a backbreaking refugee crisis. We should reaffirm our commitments to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, and Kuwait; we should let the nasty Bahraini and mischievous Qatari regimes guess our attitudes toward them.

Above all, we should further tighten relations with the Kurds in what used to be northern Iraq but is now an independent state in everything but name. We probably should try to get on the same sheet of music with them, offering support but counseling prudence—in other words, collecting some leverage so we can influence the behavior of Barzani et al. in future. Personally, I’m fine with the Kurds in Kirkuk, their traditional capital city, so long as they occupy and eventually stabilize the city with genuine justice for all of the city’s communities.’

I’ve got to give counter-culture VICE credit, they are offering dispatches from Iraq:

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The U.S. is seriously lacking in strategy, and that probably won’t change for a few more years, at least.  We helped break it, we can’t buy it, and so many interests are at stake that we ought to come up with a strategy, and soon.

Addition: Via Blackfive: The stability gained in Iraq was lost during the last three years of leaving it to its own devices?

Walter Russell Mead: ‘Kurdistan Exists: Now What?’

Independent Kurdistan-A Good Outcome For American Interests?

This blog is thinking yes on many fronts. After Operation Desert Storm, as Saddam’s forces were driven from Kuwait, the U.S. government encouraged many Kurds in the north to finally have their comeuppance against the brutal Ba’ath party’s control over their lives through Saddam and his regime (Sunni-led, fascistic, brutally authoritarian and tribal/clannish…full of Saddam loyalists…using chemical weapons against the Kurds towards the end of the Iran/Iraq war).

Many did stand up, but Saddam was not ousted from power, and thus began a campaign of violent retaliation and consolidation which included the use of chemical weapons again. It got ugly. The No-Fly zone could only do so much after the fact. Some guilt about the Kurdish plight arguably affected some of the thinking during the Iraq invasion on the American side.

PBS Frontline has a timeline.

The Kurds are their own ethnic and linguistic group, and live in northwestern Iran, northern Iraq, northeastern Syria and southwestern Turkey. They’ve been around for a long time and while the dominant religion is Islam, there are a lot of other faiths besides. It’s complicated, from what my sources say.

Sympathy does not a strategy make, but out of the current chaos, the utter failure of Syria spilling over into Iraq and the gains of ISIS/ISIL, an independent Kurdistan isn’t a bad option for many American interests. Frankly, the Kurds are managing themselves well amidst a tremendous amount of chaos.  Many want more commerce, opportunity, oil revenue, and are willing to stand up to forces like those active in defense of their homes and the idea of an ancestral homeland, families and a broader ethnic family, livelihoods and broader commerce and contact. They’re organized enough and America could do a lot worse.

We have the Turks to consider, and the Iranian regime to counterbalance as well as a complex patchwork of interests to pursue, but given the falling apart of the boundaries that held Syria and Iraq together, the rise of Islamism and Islamic militias recently, they may be people we can do business with amidst many we cannot.

Article from Slate here.

Ofra Benagio piece here from a while ago.

‘Moreover, the rise of Kurdish issues in all four states has changed the internal dynamics of Kurdish nationalism. An evolving trans-border current has produced a de facto Kurdish regional subsystem whose manifestations are several. First, the Kurds now imagine themselves to be one nation deserving to live on one united territory; this is new. Thus, the new mind’s-eye Kurdistan is portrayed as one unit divided into four parts: north Kurdistan (bakur) corresponding to the Kurdish region in Turkey, south Kurdistan (bashur) to that in Iraq, east Kurdistan (rojhelat) to that in Iran, and west Kurdistan (rojava) to that in Syria. No one should discount the power of having a common geopolitical language in a nationalist ambition.’

See Also:  Dexter Filkins ‘From Kurdistan To New York’

Check out Sons Of Devils from the Atlantic a while back.  Very interesting long-form piece on the Kurds.

During Christopher Hitchens’ 2009 appearance on Australia’s Q & A, he wore a Kurdish flag pin in solidarity and fielded a question from a Kurd (starts at minute 1:30…mentioned as the rest of the debate may be worth your time):

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In his new book Where The West EndsMichael Totten describes visiting Northern Iraq briefly as a tourist with a friend, and the general feeling of pro-Americanism in Kurdish Northern Iraq that generally one can only feel in Poland, parts of the former Yugoslavia etc.

Related On This Site: Longer odds, lots of risk: Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest’s Via Media: “The Rise Of Independent Kurdistan?”From Reuters: ‘Analysis: Syrian Kurds Sense Freedom, Power Struggle Awaits’

Repost-From Michael Yon: ‘The Battle For Kandahar’Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Repost-’Dexter Filkins In The NY Times: The Long Road To Chaos In Pakistan’

Two Tuesday Quotes

“Moreover, the reputation, indeed the political survival, of most leaders depends on their ability to realize their goals, however these may have been arrived at.  Whether these goals are desireable is relatively less crucial.”

Kissinger, Henry. American Foreign Policy:  Three Essays.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc.  1969.

A quote from this piece over at the Atlantic: From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s Work

“Although the professional soldier accepts the reality of never-ending and limited conflict, “the liberal tendency,” Huntington explained, is “to absolutize and dichotomize war and peace.” Liberals will most readily support a war if they can turn it into a crusade for advancing humanistic ideals. That is why, he wrote, liberals seek to reduce the defense budget even as they periodically demand an adventurous foreign policy.”

What about an unadventurous foreign policy, but still very risky nonetheless?

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