Category Archives: Diplomacy

‘Trump the Thucydidean’ — OK, yeah; I hear it…

Occasionally, I get a little glimpse into what Trump voters object to when they behold the folk they see as out-of-touch elites — particularly those whom their spiritual godfather George Wallace called “pointy-headed intellectuals.”

An interesting discussion came on “On Point” this morning, just as I was arriving at the office. I’m sorry I didn’t have time to listen to the whole thing. One of the guests was Graham Allison titled “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?” It’s about what may be the inevitable coming clash between these two behemoths, and you can hardly find a topic more important than that. Here’s an excerpt from a 2015 magazine article in which the author set out the concept:

When Barack Obama meets this week with Xi Jinping during the Chinese president’s first state visit to America, one item probably won’t be on their agenda: the possibility that the United States and China could find themselves at war in the next decade. In policy circles, this appears as unlikely as it would be unwise.

Thucydides

Thucydides

And yet 100 years on, World War I offers a sobering reminder of man’s capacity for folly. When we say that war is “inconceivable,” is this a statement about what is possible in the world—or only about what our limited minds can conceive? In 1914, few could imagine slaughter on a scale that demanded a new category: world war. When war ended four years later, Europe lay in ruins: the kaiser gone, the Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved, the Russian tsar overthrown by the Bolsheviks, France bled for a generation, and England shorn of its youth and treasure. A millennium in which Europe had been the political center of the world came to a crashing halt.

The defining question about global order for this generation is whether China and the United States can escape Thucydides’s Trap. The Greek historian’s metaphor reminds us of the attendant dangers when a rising power rivals a ruling power—as Athens challenged Sparta in ancient Greece, or as Germany did Britain a century ago. Most such contests have ended badly, often for both nations, a team of mine at the Harvard Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs has concluded after analyzing the historical record. In 12 of 16 cases over the past 500 years, the result was war. When the parties avoided war, it required huge, painful adjustments in attitudes and actions on the part not just of the challenger but also the challenged….

It’s one of those Big Ideas that explain the importance of so many others. It explains why President Obama, and Hillary Clinton before she went all Bernie, rightly saw the Trans-Pacific Partnership as so important — you know, the thing Trump killed without a thought the moment he took office.

Still, knowing all that, when I heard the author mention how “Thucydidean” Trump was being, I thought, “OK, now I hear it. I see what all the anti-intellectuals are on about…”

Graham: Trump budget could cause ‘a lot of Benghazis’

And you know that, coming from Lindsey Graham, that’s a bad thing.

Here’s what The Washington Post is reporting:

The Trump administration’s fiscal 2018 State Department budget proposal irresponsibly cuts diplomacy and diplomatic security in a way that could cause “a lot of Benghazis,” according to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C), chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee on the State Department and foreign operations. He promised that Congress would reject the cuts.Graham mug

“If we implemented this budget, we’d have to retreat from the world and put a lot of people at risk,” Graham said on the day the Trump administration is releasing its detailed budget proposal for next year. “A lot of Benghazis in the making if we actually implemented the State Department cuts.”

Overall, the Trump administration is proposing to cut the budget for the State Department and USAID, from the $54.9 billion estimated total in fiscal 2017 to $37.6 billion in fiscal 2018 — a reduction of $17.3 billion, or 31 percent. Not counting emergency funding, known as Overseas Contingency Operations funding, the Trump budget would cut the State Department and USAID by 29 percent.

“A 29 percent cut means you really have to withdraw from the world because your presence is compromised,” Graham said. “That may be the goal of this budget. It’s not my goal. This guts soft power as we know it.”…

As is usually the case when Graham tries to hold Trump accountable, I agree wholeheartedly…

 

“President United States” Nikki Haley

Nikki 1

My wife was watching her Reuters TV app yesterday, and at one point she said, “Why does it say ‘president’ under Nikki Haley’s name?”

I thought at first that she meant Reuters had made a mistake in the chyron under the video, and thinking there might be a light blog post in it, I downloaded the app myself just to watch the clip.

Turns out that no, Reuters had made no mistake. And the label wasn’t part of some ephemeral electronic crawl, but an actual, physical sign in front of her that said “PRESIDENT,” next to a sign just like it that said, “UNITED STATES.”

This juxtaposition would have freaked me out a bit a year or two ago, as it did whenever I heard or read national pundits referring to her as running-mate material. Only more so. But now, Donald J. Trump actually is president of the United States, and I would far rather see Nikki — or almost any reasonably normal person — in that job.

As for the “PRESIDENT” sign, that’s easily explained. She’s taking her turn this month presiding over the Security Council (another thing that might have freaked me out a year ago, but as I explained before, things have changed).

But let’s, just for the sake of variety, speak for a moment to the substance. If you didn’t see and hear her speech before the Security Council, here it is:

That clip culminates with her line that’s been quoted a good bit over the last 24, “When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in life of states that we are compelled to take our own action.”

Which sounds ominous, of course. But it seemed quite natural after she stood up and displayed those pictures.

The good news is that the Steve Bannon isolationist America-First nonsense seems to be fading into the background this week. The bad news is that we might soon have (more) troops fighting in Syria, a country where you can’t walk across the street without tripping over one of Trump’s buddy Putin’s people.

So, a tense situation.

But that’s not my point in this post. What is my point? I guess it’s to say that at this difficult moment, Nikki did a pretty good job…

Nikki 2

About this insanity of cutting State Dept. by almost 30 percent

Can’t let the day go buy without a post about Trump’s (and Mulvaney’s) insane proposal to cut the State Department by almost 30 percent:

The State Department faces cuts of nearly 29 percent, with $10 billion shaved off its core program funding under proposals to eliminate climate-change initiatives and to slash foreign aid, contributions to the United Nations and cultural exchanges.main-qimg-1e106bd58fc14b936332fa029ea62318

The basic budget for the State Department and USAID, which houses many U.S. development and economic aid programs around the world, will shrink from $36.7 billion to $25.6 billion. The Trump budget also calls for $1.5 billion for Treasury International Programs, a 35 percent reduction from the previous year, a figure the White House included in its discussion of State’s budget. The administration also proposes $12 billion for operations in war-torn areas such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, down from more than $20 billion this year. Overall, the budget would shrink from $52.8 billion to $37.6 billion.

The proposal reflects a dramatic shift in U.S. foreign policy to an “America First” focus on whether programs meet specific U.S. interests. Many of the spending cuts are in programs whose missions are deemed poorly managed or insufficient in advancing U.S. foreign policy goals….

I’ll also share this from U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s President and CEO Liz Schrayer:

“America First starts with protecting our national security and as our military leaders are the first to say: hard power alone will not keep America safe. The danger of cutting one-third of our civilian forces at a time of such extreme global threats, famines of historic proportions, and a refugee crisis not seen since World War II is unimaginable.

This debate between hard and soft power is a relic of the Cold War that ended after 9/11. Congress must recognize that we face complex 21st century threats from the rise of ISIS to the pandemics that can show up on our shores. Reject these dangerous cuts to diplomacy and development and invest in smart power – military and civilian tools alike. The stakes are just too high for America to retreat.”

Note the statements from religious, business, NGO and military leaders linked from that page.

Incidentally, the USGLC is the outfit that SC GOP Chair Matt Moore is leaving to go work for.

Here’s a statement on this stuff from Lindsey Graham:

“Historically, presidential budgets do not fare well with Congress.

“I appreciate that this budget increases defense spending, yet these increases in defense come at the expense of national security, soft power, and other priorities.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress and President Trump to create a budget that is fiscally responsible, makes our country safer, and preserves wise investments in our future.”

Graham isn’t alone. Overall, his budget is not faring well with Republicans in Congress:

Defense hawks, rural conservatives and even some of Donald Trump’s most vocal supporters in Congress sharply criticized the president’s first budget proposal on Thursday, pushing back on the huge potential hike in defense spending as insufficient and decrying some other cuts to federal agencies and programs.

Capitol Hill Republicans, however, did not seem terribly worried about the prospect of such a budget being enacted, stating matter-of-factly that it is Congress, after all, that controls the purse strings.

“Presidents propose, Congress disposes,” said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) the former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “We’ve not had our chance yet.”

Rogers was one of several GOP lawmakers to dismiss Trump’s budget as a pie-in-the sky wishlist with little hope of surviving negotiations in Congress. Most Republicans gave passing support to Trump’s general goal of increasing defense spending while reducing costs elsewhere in the budget. But none would embrace the specific White House blueprint….

You notice something? All these people who know something about governing are on one side, and the new “outsider” president is on the other. You know why? Because he and his loyal retainers, who wouldn’t know a fact if it bit them on the… ankle…,  don’t have a clue.

And now, we have China threatening ‘a large-scale war’

China's one and only aircraft carrier, which they bought used./U.S. Navy

China’s one and only aircraft carrier, which they bought used./U.S. Navy

Or rather, we have state-controlled media doing so, which is a signal I think we have to take seriously:

The US risks a “large-scale war” with China if it attempts to blockade islands in the South China Sea, Chinese state media has said, adding that if recent statements become policy when Donald Trump takes over as president “the two sides had better prepare for a military clash”.

China has controversially built fortifications and artificial islands across the South China Sea. Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, said China’s “access to those islands … is not going to be allowed”.

China claims nearly the entire area, with rival claims by five south-east Asian neighbours and Taiwan.

Tillerson did not specify how the US would block access but experts agreed it could only be done by a significant show of military force. Tillerson likened China’s island building to “Russia’s taking of Crimea”.

“Tillerson had better bone up on nuclear power strategies if he wants to force a big nuclear power to withdraw from its own territories,” said an editorial in the Global Times, a Communist-party controlled newspaper….

I’m not disagreeing with anything Tillerson said, mind you — and it’s not all that different from the policy followed by the Obama administration — but the current situation is fraught.

On a previous post about Nikki Haley, Phillip Bush said:

That’s going to be a tough job, representing the views of the United States to the United Nations and the world when your own Administration is going to be one squabbling, Tweeting, contradictory, capricious, incoherent mess, especially on foreign policy. Her greatest challenge will come not from fellow delegates at the UN or on the Security Council, but trying to sort out and gracefully convey the day-to-day contradictions emanating from the government she is appointed to represent….

Yep.

One of the main narratives of this week has been that Trump’s nominees are not toeing the Trump line, particularly on foreign policy. Which in one way is encouraging (the nominees’ take is usually far wiser and better-informed), but in another way can lead to chaotic, incoherent policy, an unstable situation in which an unstable personality (hint, hint) can trigger an international crisis, perhaps even war, with a phone call — or a Tweet.

I have little doubt that Nikki Haley will conduct herself “gracefully,” but I do worry quite a bit about a diplomatic novice representing us on the Security Council without expert supervision and direction. That said, in a crisis, Nikki would be the least of my worries. And of course, the new POTUS would be my greatest.

What if, sometime after next Friday, Chinese state media issues a blustering threat like that, and includes some less-than-flattering reflections on Trump himself? How do you suppose he’ll react? And who will be able to contain him? And will they be in time?

On this, Trump may be right and Obama may be wrong

Image from NBC file footage of Netanyahu speaking at the U.N.

Image from NBC file footage of Netanyahu speaking at the U.N.

Like a stopped clock, Donald Trump will sometimes be right — and this might be one of those times.

Today, the outgoing Obama administration got this shot across its bow:

An Israeli official on Friday accused President Barack Obama of colluding with the Palestinians in a “shameful move against Israel at the U.N.” after learning the White House did not intend to veto a Security Council resolution condemning settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem the day before.

“President Obama and Secretary Kerry are behind this shameful move against Israel at the U.N.,” the official said. “The U.S administration secretly cooked up with the Palestinians an extreme anti-Israeli resolution behind Israel’s back which would be a tail wind for terror and boycotts and effectively make the Western Wall occupied Palestinian territory,” he said calling it “an abandonment of Israel which breaks decades of US policy of protecting Israel at the UN.”

Earlier he said Israel’s prime minister turned to President-elect Donald Trump to help head off the critical U.N. resolution….

And Trump obliged:

JERUSALEM — President­-elect Donald J. Trump thrust himself into one of the world’s most polarizing debates on Thursday by pressuring President Obama to veto a United Nations resolution critical of Israel, the newly elected leader’s most direct intervention in foreign policy during his transition to power. Mr. Trump spoke out after Israeli officials contacted his team for help in blocking the draft resolution condemning settlement construction even as they lobbied its sponsor, Egypt. Within a couple of hours, Egypt withdrew the resolution, at least temporarily, and its president, Abdel Fattah el­Sisi, called Mr. Trump to discuss how “to establish true peace in the Middle East,” according to an aide to the president-­elect….

Of course, if you don’t like Trump’s current position, wait five minutes. But for now, I think he’s calling for the right response.

Look, folks: I think to a great extent those settlements are problematic, a provocation. But this is no way for Israel’s adversaries to try to cram through a resolution on the subject — two days before Christmas and in the midst of a uniquely unsettling presidential transition in this country. Note that I’m talking here about the United States. Why? Because I think a move like this is meant to take advantage of this country as much as it is meant to strike out at Israel.

First the Russians try, and one might even say succeed (if one isn’t too discriminating in discerning causes and effects), in throwing this country into disarray. Now this.

Oh, and while I’m talking foreign interference, let me say that I don’t particularly appreciate our friend Israel reaching out to Trump this way. But President Obama could certainly have avoided that desperation move by assuring Israel that he had its back.

I hope he did, in fact. I certainly hope the Israeli allegation is wrong, and that President Obama intended to veto this resolution at this time.

You know what would be nice? A clear statement from the administration to that effect. That would do much to pour oil on the waters. If anyone’s seen anything like that, let me know. I’ve been hunting for something, ANYTHING from the White House on this, and failing to find it. I’ll keep looking. (I’ve found speculation that maybe Samantha Power is quietly working to solve the problem, and perhaps that’s right. If so, ignore everything I’ve said.)

By the way, before I sign off, here’s what Lindsey Graham has to say about the situation. His release, in fact, is what alerted me to the fact that this matter, which I thought was averted yesterday, may not be over:

Statement by U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham on Resolution Involving Israeli Settlements:

“This provocative action by the United Nations is an outrage and must be dealt with sternly and forcefully.

“As the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I oversee the United States assistance to the United Nations.  The United States is currently responsible for approximately 22 percent of the United Nations total budget.

“If the United Nations moves forward with the ill-conceived resolution, I will work to form a bipartisan coalition to suspend or significantly reduce United States assistance to the United Nations.

“In addition, any nation which backs this resolution and receives assistance from the United States will put that assistance in jeopardy.

“There is a reason the United States has long opposed these type efforts directed at Israel — the only way to achieve a lasting peace by the parties negotiating directly and not using the United Nations as a blunt instrument against Israel.  This was President Obama’s position in 2011 and it should be his position today.”

#####

Is this really where the light of liberal democracy grows dim?

In a comment earlier I wrote about how concerned I am about the course of my country — and of the world. More so than I’ve ever been in my more than six decades on this planet.

It’s not just Trump — he’s just a glaring, ugly sign of it. Take a step back, and reflect: Who came in second in the GOP primaries? The only guy who gave Trump any kind of a run for his money as the worst candidate ever — Ted Cruz. All the better-suited candidates were stuck in single digits. And the Democrats have nothing to brag about — they put forward the second-most (second to Trump) despised candidate in the history of such things being measured. And she had trouble putting away a cranky old socialist to get that far.

How can I blame Trump when the real problem is that millions of people voted for him? I actually almost feel sorry for this bizarre figure, because he truly had zero reason to expect that he’d actually end up in this position.

I mean seriously: If you don’t even go deeper than his hair, you can tell at a glance that the country’s really, really in trouble. This is what will lead us?krauthammer

And the rest of the world, too. As Charles Krauthammer wrote today, “After a mere 25 years, the triumph of the West is over.” The promise of 1991, with the Soviet Union finally collapsing and the U.S. leading a broad coalition against Saddam in Kuwait — the New World Order in which Civilization, led by the City on a Hill, would enforce its values against aggressors — is behind us.

The United States is pulling back, and the bad guys just can’t wait to flow into the vacuum. In fact, they haven’t been waiting — in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine or the South China Sea. Or even in our own backyard.

He sums it up this way, blaming BOTH Obama and Trump:

Donald Trump wants to continue the pullback, though for entirely different reasons. Obama ordered retreat because he’s always felt the U.S. was not good enough for the world, too flawed to have earned the moral right to be the world hegemon. Trump would follow suit, disdaining allies and avoiding conflict, because the world is not good enough for us — undeserving, ungrateful, parasitic foreigners living safely under our protection and off our sacrifices. Time to look after our own American interests.

I think he’s trying a little too hard at false equivalence there, but at the same time, while Obama’s a smart guy who knows how to say the right things (unlike, you know, the other guy), there has been a noticeable tinge of “Oh, this country isn’t all that special” in his stance toward the world. A tinge that some of you agree with, and with which I couldn’t disagree more. But if you’re right, if the United States isn’t all that special — if it can’t be relied upon as the chief champion of liberal democracy — then the world doesn’t stand much of a chance. Because there’s always somebody wanting to be the hegemon, and the leading candidates running to take our place are pretty much a nightmare.

ISIS is a wannabe and never-was on that score. Russia wants to be a contender again, instead of bum, Charlie. But my money has long been on the oppressive authoritarians of the world’s largest country, China.

One of the first editorials I wrote for The State — maybe the first — when I joined the editorial board in 1994 was about the disturbing signs I saw of the Chinese buying friends and influencing people right here in our hemisphere, the long-forgotten Monroe Doctrine notwithstanding. I was worried that nobody else in this country seemed to see it, thanks to the fact that few of my fellow Americans ever took a moment to think about what happens to the south of us. (Side note: We wrote a lot about international affairs when I joined the editorial board; when I became editor, we would focus far more closely on South Carolina, which needed the scrutiny.)

Well, more people have noticed it since then. But not enough people. And not enough of the ones who have noticed care. President Obama, to his credit, started his “pivot” to focus on the Pacific Rim. That was the smart thing to do for this country’s long-term interests, and those of liberal democracy in general. China needs to be countered, with both soft power and, when necessary, hard.

Probably the most chilling paragraph in Krauthammer’s column is this one:

As for China, the other great challenger to the post-Cold War order, the administration’s “pivot” has turned into an abject failure. The Philippines openly defected to the Chinese side. Malaysia then followed. And the rest of our Asian allies are beginning to hedge their bets. When the president of China addressed the Pacific Rim countries in Peru last month, he suggested that China was prepared to pick up the pieces of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, now abandoned by both political parties in the United States….

TPP was smart policy, encouraging our allies in the region to join with us in confidence, tying themselves more closely with U.S. interests in the face of the Chinese challenge. And this year, neither party was willing to stand up for it — even though one of the nominees (the one who lost, of course) knew better. If she’d been elected, at least we’d have had the chance of her breaking that bad campaign promise.

We painstakingly fashioned that strategic instrument, then dropped it like a hot potato when the populists began howling. And China is preparing to pick it up. And maybe you don’t, but I feel the Earth’s center of gravity shifting in the wrong direction.

Oh, but hey, Carrier’s not moving a plant to Mexico — at least, not completely. So everything’s OK, right? We’ve entered the era of short-term, inwardly focused international goals. Or something…

This is the right way to praise Trump, if one must

obama-on-trump

Bryan sent me an email headlined “Obama: Trump is ‘pragmatic’ – POLITICO,” followed in the body of the message by:

Don’t give me that look. I didn’t say it, Obama did.

http://www.politico.com/story/2016/11/obama-praises-trump-pragmatic-231361

Hey, I wasn’t giving him any look.

What the president said was completely correct, both in the sense of being the proper tone for a president to strike in speaking of his successor, and in terms of accuracy.

Trump is not an ideologue, and is indeed “pragmatic in that way.”

If I were in Obama’s predicament, in a situation in which I felt constrained to say something positive (or at least nonjudgmental) about the president-elect — and he is in that situation — I would say that very thing.

And it would come out sounding nice, because everyone would know how I look down on ideologies. Of course, there’s something that is often worse than an ideologue, which is someone who doesn’t deal in ideas at all. But it would sound nice, and it would be accurate, as far as it went.

Trump believes not in ideas, but in the moods that strike him. That makes him extraordinarily dangerous, but it also means he’s not a rigid ideologue like Ted Cruz. So there’s that. And in doing his duty to say calming, diplomatic things, POTUS hit on just the right thing to say.

He’s good at that. I’m really gonna miss this guy. Watch the video and see how thoughtfully and maturely he addresses the question, and you will likely agree. The nation is really, really going to miss that quality…

Obama: ‘Brexit’ would not make Special Relationship closer

Prince_of_Wales-5

Conference leaders during Church services on the after deck of HMS Prince of Wales, in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, during the Atlantic Charter Conference. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (left) and Prime Minister Winston Churchill are seated in the foreground. Standing directly behind them are Admiral Ernest J. King, USN; General George C. Marshall, U.S. Army; General Sir John Dill, British Army; Admiral Harold R. Stark, USN; and Admiral Sir Dudley Pound, RN. At far left is Harry Hopkins, talking with W. Averell Harriman.

I kind of go back and forth on the whole “Should Britain exit the E.U.?” thing:

  • I’m generally not for nations or federations splitting up, especially not for nationalistic (in the racial or cultural sense) reasons. Balkanization is bad. I’m against secession whether practiced by the Confederacy or Quebec separatists. I make an exception for the USSR.
  • On the other hand, British culture is so awesome! From Shakespeare to the Beatles, Jane Austen to Nick Hornby, Monty Python to Douglas Adams, King Arthur to QEII, the guy who wrote “Greensleeves” to Elvis Costello, Beau Brummel to Carnaby Street, Jack Aubrey to Arthur Dent, James Bond to George Smiley, I want to see Britain hang onto everything that makes it special and unique, and I don’t want a bit of it to be watered down.
  • The E.U. makes for a strong trading partner for the United States, when it’s not having eruptions in Greece and such.

    Stack of British one pound coins

    No coin is sounder than a pound.

  • I’m deeply gratified that the Brits didn’t go to the Euro. I’m still not thrilled that they decimalised the pound. It was disappointing, when I was there, not to hear people refer to shillings and crowns and such. But every time I held a pound or two-pound coin, I fully understood the phrase “sound as a…” That is some seriously solid, dependable-feeling money.

And so forth.

I found myself swinging back and forth today, with President Obama visiting London and backing up David Cameron’s position of maintaining the union.

For instance, I find the idea that maybe we could deepen the Special Relationship by having special bilateral trade deals, just between us and our Mum Country.

But Obama threw cold water on that:

The UK would be at the back of the queue for a trade deal with the US if Britain voted to leave the EU, Barack Obama has said.

The US president said a trade agreement would not happen any time soon in the event of Britain leaving because it was better to strike a transatlantic deal with Europe as a whole….

Which made me think, it’s great you’re helping the PM out and all. As you say, that’s what friends do. But really? We wouldn’t negotiate favorable trade terms with our closest friend in the world if she stood alone?

It’s almost enough to make you think Boris Johnson is onto something when he suggests that Obama’s Kenyan heritage makes him a less-than-enthusiastic ally of the colonial power. I mean, really — American presidents don’t stiff-arm Great Britain (by doing such thing as sending Churchill’s bust back).

Almost.

In the end, I suppose, I think it’s best for our friends to hold France close, and Germany closer. After all, Europe hasn’t launched another World War since this alliance came together. Yet.

But my Anglophilia still causes me to go wobbly sometimes…

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom talk during the G8 Summit at the Lough Erne Resort in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, June 17, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom talk during the G8 Summit at the Lough Erne Resort in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, June 17, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

I’m sorry, but this photo does not inspire confidence

25986848835_b1c501ec4d_o

The White House was probably trying to assure us that, even though he’s very busy doing photo ops in Cuba, he’s really staying on top of the Brussels situation.

So we have this official photo showing POTUS in a (presumably, going by the riveted door and sound-absorbing panels) secure room at the residence of the U.S. chief of mission, with this cutline:

President Barack Obama and National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice talk on the phone with Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco to receive an update on a terrorist attack in Brussels, Belgium. The President made the call from the residence of the U.S. Chief of Mission in Havana, Cuba, March 22, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

But ya know, I’m not much assured. Not because the president’s looking all tense and worried, but because of the person sitting at his right hand.

I still get a little chill down my spine whenever I’m reminded that Susan Rice is the president’s national security advisor. That’s because I learned way more than I wanted to know about her back when she was floated as possible secretary of state. And almost everything I learned worried me.

Not just because her misspeaking got the ball rolling on the GOP’s Benghazi fixation, but because incident after incident in her history showed a lack of judgment and reliability — in Rwanda, and other places. Such as Sierra Leone.

Ours is a vast and resource-rich nation. We have loads and loads of really smart people, in academia, in government, at think tanks, in multinational corporations — people with great track records in dealing with a complicated world. Is Susan Rice, who has so many questionable items in her record, from the deadly serious to the trivial, really the best person in the nation to be at the president’s right hand in a crisis?

That seems doubtful to me…

So what’s next? Photoshopped pictures of them playing with dolls?

I’m reacting to this, which David Frum reTweeted yesterday:

Assuming this is for real and not some right-wing hoax, I’ve gotta say to the Iranians, Really, guys? Don’t you think you’ve wrung enough out of the “humiliating the Great Satan” shtick? Do you really want everybody in this country to hate the nuclear deal?

Hillary now blows to wherever the wind may take her

Wow, Hillary Clinton is really getting desperate.

She is so anxious to placate the emotional left of her party that she has abandoned the Pacific trade agreement she promoted until recently. The WSJ summed up her conversion this way:

Mrs. Clinton was asked on PBS’s NewsHour whether the trade deal is “something you could support?”

Her reply: “What I know about it, as of today, I am not in favor of what I have learned about it. And there is one other element I want to make, because I think it’s important. Trade agreements don’t happen in a vacuum, and in order for us to have a competitive economy in the global marketplace, there are things we need to do here at home that help raise wages. And the Republicans have blocked everything President Obama tried to do on that front. So for the larger issues, and then what I know, and again, I don’t have the text, we don’t yet have all the details, I don’t believe it’s going to meet the high bar I have set.”

So she hasn’t seen the agreement’s text, and can’t speak to the details, but she’s against the deal because Republicans who haven’t held the White House in seven years haven’t raised wages.

Mrs. Clinton previously called the Pacific pact the “gold standard in trade agreements,” and as recently as her memoir in 2014 she praised it as “important for American workers who would benefit from competing on a more level playing field.” At State she took a leading role in promoting the pact and in January 2013 said that “I think the Trans-Pacific Partnership is one way that could really enhance our relationship” with Japan. She supported Nafta and she backed the trade deal with South Korea, but now she’s had a change of heart—or should we say soul….

Basically, she preemptively dropped this hot potato before she even had a good grip on it. But the fact that this agreement is a hot potato shows how far gone her party is.

People go on about how the Republicans have lost their way, being held hostage by the flakes on its fringe, and they’re absolutely right to do so.

Well, the Democrats have the same problem. They have their own Know-Nothings, with notions about trade and growth that seem to have been drafted by Occupy Wall Street, and leading candidates are in their thrall.

It’s been awhile since the party has had sensible Third Way leadership with names such as… Clinton.

Graham’s speech today opposing the Iran deal

Since he sent it to me, and I’m too busy this afternoon to digest it, I’ll just share the whole thing with y’all. Here’s the transcript:

Mr. Graham:

Thank you, Senator Corker. Well, I just want to make sure people understand what we’re trying to do here at this point. Our Democratic colleagues are filibustering an attempt to have a debate, an up-or-down vote on the most consequential foreign policy decision in modern history. That’s what you’re doing. And Senator Corker in good faith got us here in a bipartisan manner and Senator Reid has come out of nowhere to change what was the common understanding of how we would proceed, get 60 votes, a simple majority, let the president act as he wishes. But no, we couldn’t do that.  We’re more worried about protecting Barack Obama from having to veto this than you are about having a debate on the floor of the Senate.

Now, let me tell you a little bit about who you’re dealing with here, folks. And if I hear one more comment from my Democratic friends about how much they love Israel……with friends like this, you don’t need an enemy.

Here’s who you are dealing with. This was yesterday. The Iran Supreme Leader predicted Wednesday that Israel would not exist in 25 years and ruled out any new negotiations with a Satan, the United States, beyond the recently concluded nuclear accord. In remarks published Wednesday on his personal web site — at least the Ayatollah has gotten in modern times and post on Twitter — the Supreme Leader — do you know what they call him Supreme Leader? Because he is. Ayatollah Khamenei responding to what he said were claims that Israel would be safe for that period. Where do those claims come from?

It came from this Administration, my colleagues on the other side. You’re telling everybody in the world that this is the best deal for Israel. Guess what? Nobody in Israel agrees with you, who is in the current government.  It’s just not Bibi [Netanyahu]. Everybody who is in the current coalition government understands this is not a good deal for Israel. Why don’t you listen to them? You want it to be a good deal for Israel. Well, it’s not. And you wanting it doesn’t change it.

So let’s finish to what he said.   The Ayatollah responded to claims he would be safe for that period under the nuclear agreement reached in July. After nuclear negotiations, the Zionist regime said they will not be worried about Iran in the next 25 years.  After nuclear negotiations, the Zionist regime said they will not be worried about Iran in the next 25 years. Israel didn’t say that. People over here said that. The Ayatollah wrote I am telling you first you will not be around in 25 years, and god willing, there will be no Zionist regime in 25 years.

Second, during this period, the spirit of fighting heroism and jihad will keep you worried at every moment. Clearly, somebody who is on the course of change, somebody we should give $100 billion to, create a pathway to a nuclear bomb in 15 years, let him buy more weapons in five years and build an intercontinental ballistic missile in eight years. Clearly, this is the man that has changed course and you have empowered.

At least, at least [Neville] Chamberlain can say Hitler lied. At least Chamberlain can say I negotiated with the Fuhrer, he told me to my face if you give me this I’m done. We all know that Chamberlain was a chump and Hitler actually meant what he said when he wrote a book. The question is does this man mean what he says when he tweets yesterday?

The ink is not dry on the deal. One thing you can say about the old Ayatollah, who is crazy, who is a religious Nazi, at least he’s honest. He doesn’t want you to be confused as you vote as to what he wants to do to your friend Israel.

See, he doesn’t want you to mistake what this deal means to him. You obviously are writing him off. You obviously believe he doesn’t mean it. I guess he has a polling problem in Iran. He’s got to get his numbers up. He needs to say these things because he doesn’t mean it but he has to keep his people happy because they like hearing this stuff. All I can tell you, his people tried to rise up against him in 2009 and our president sat on the sidelines and didn’t do a damn thing.

The biggest moment for change in Iran came in 2009 when young people and women took to the streets demanding a fair election that was stolen from them by the Ayatollah and his response was to beat them, shoot them, put them in jail and torture them. This is the guy that you’re going to give $100 billion to. A clear pathway to a bomb. He doesn’t even have to cheat to get there. And buy more weapons to attack us. At least Chamberlain lied. This man is telling you what he’s going to do as of yesterday.

And between the time the negotiations have started to now, has he given us — shown us a little leg about real change? During the negotiations he has toppled four Arab capitals. During the negotiations, he supported the Houthis in Yemen who destroyed a pro-American government, and we’ve lost eyes and ears on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a Sunni-extremist group who attacked Paris and will attack us. During the negotiation they have done anything but be modest. I cannot believe that you don’t believe him. I cannot believe that you made the biggest miscalculation in modern history by empowering a religious fanatic with the ability to attack our nation, destroy our friends in Israel and keep the Mideast on fire for 15 years. What are y’all thinking over there?

All I can say is that the last 9/11, 3,000 of us died because they couldn’t get weapons to kill three million of us. If you let this deal go forward, before too long the most radical regime on the planet will have the most lethal weapons available to mankind. They will share that technology with terrorists and it will come here. And why do they need an ICBM folks? What are they going to do with it? They’re not going to send people to space. What are you thinking? What are y’all thinking over there? You’re taking the most radical regime on the planet, a theocracy. This is not a democracy. The moderates were shot down in the streets. They were begging ‘are you with us or with you with him, President Obama?’

President Obama is absolutely the most poor champion of freedom and the weakest opponent of evil in history. Evil is flourishing on his watch. President Obama said you’d have to be crazy not to support this deal. Let’s walk through whether or not we should follow his advice about radical Islam.

This is the president who was told to leave troops in Iraq to make sure our gains would be maintained, and he pulled everybody out because he wanted to get to zero. He turned down every commander’s advice to get to zero because he made a campaign promise. This is the president that was told by his entire national security team three years ago establish a no-fly zone and help the Free Syrian Army because Assad was on the rope. At the time when it would have mattered when there was a Free Syrian Army to help. Obama said no thanks.

This is the president who drew a red line against Assad after he backed off and said if you use chemical weapons and cross that red line, you’ll pay a price. Here’s the facts: Assad is going to be in power and Obama is going to be gone. The last guy standing is going to be Assad. This is the man who said don’t worry about ISIL. They are the J.V. Team.  I killed Bin Laden.  Al-Qaeda is decimated.  At what point do you realize that President Obama has no idea what he’s talking about? At what point in time is it obvious to anybody in the world who’s paying attention when it comes to radical Islam, he has no clue? So this is the guy we’re going to send in to negotiate with a radical Ayatollah, a guy who in the eyes of the world is a complete weak defender of freedom and a very poor adversary of evil?

And if that’s not enough, the Iranians are rubbing this in John Kerry and Barack Obama’s face by tweeting this out hours before you vote on this deal, just to remind you that no matter what you say on this floor about Israel, nothing’s changed in his mind about Israel. And when you claim Israel’s safe, he’s telling you no, they’re not.

But you’re not listening because you — you’re not listening because you don’t think he really means it. I can tell you right now, you better be right. And how about this idea, when it comes to the Ayatollah, assume the worst, not the best. And to our friends in Russia, John Kerry said one of the big benefits of this deal is that we’ll bring Russia in and Iran will be a better partner in the Mideast. And we’ll have a major breakthrough where Iran begins to help us with problems like Syria. Well, here’s Russia’s response before you vote.

They’re sending Russian troops, maybe fighter planes into Syria to prop up Assad before you vote. Taking everything John Kerry said about what would happen if you do this deal and rubbing it in his face. Tell me how you fix Syria with Assad in power? What the Russians are doing are ensuring he will stay in power longer. The longer he stays in power the more refugees the world will have to deal with and the more hell on earth will occur in Syria. The Syrian people want two things. They want to destroy ISIL and want Assad gone because he destroyed their families. Secretary Kerry, how well is this working with this new engagement with Iran and Russia? Things are really changing. Look at the tweet yesterday. What are you going to tell the American people this means? Interpret the Ayatollah for me. This is just all talk? He has to say these things?

He doesn’t get elected. He doesn’t have to worry about the next election. He says these things because he believes it. He’s a religious fanatic compelled by his version of Islam to destroy everything in his religion that he doesn’t agree with, to destroy the one and only Jewish state and attack democracies like ours. And you’re giving him more to do that with.  This is over time a death sentence for Israel if it’s not changed. And if I had $100 billion to negotiate with, for God’s sake, could I get four people out of jail? I could get people out of jail here with $100 billion. Who’s negotiating with Iran? This idea we’re going to separate all of their bad behavior from the nuclear program was the biggest miscalculation in modern foreign policy history. To suggest that we don’t need to look at Iran as a whole unit, that we’re going to ignore the fact that they have four hostages, U.S. personnel held in sham trials, a “Washington Post” reporter, that they are the largest state sponsor of terrorism, they destabilize the region, driven our friends out of Yemen. They are supporting Hezbollah, a mortal enemy of Israel, taken over the Lebanese government. We’re not going to worry about that. What do you think they’re going to do with the $100 billion? Do you think they’re going to build roads and bridges? The best indication of the next 15 years is the last 35. When you separated their nuclear ambitions from their destructive behavior, giving them access to more weapons and $100 billion, you made a huge mistake because you’re damning the Middle East to holy hell for the next 15 years and giving the largest state sponsor of terrorism more money and more weapons to attack us. And you couldn’t get four people out of jail.

The Iranians must — the only reason they’re not dancing in Iran, the Ayatollah, he doesn’t believe in dancing. I’ve got friends over there who I respect and admire. I have no idea what you’re thinking here. I have no idea why you believe the Ayatollah doesn’t mean what he says given the way he’s behaved. If they will shoot their own children down in the streets to keep power, what do you think they’ll do to ours? And the only reason 3,000 people died on 9/11 is they couldn’t get the weapons to kill three million of us, and they’re on course to do it now. I’ve never been more disappointed in the body than I am today. A body known to be the most deliberative body in democracy in the history of the world, and you won’t let us have a vote. You won’t let us have a debate. And please stop saying this deal makes Israel safer.

That’s cruel. And your response to this deal is to give them more weapons because you know they’re not safer. I find it a bit odd that in response to this deal we’re selling the Arabs every kind of weapon known to man. If you really thought this was such a good deal, why do you have to arm everybody who is in the cross hairs of the Ayatollah? When they write the history of these times, they’re going to look back and say that President Obama was a weak opponent of evil and a poor champion of freedom. They’re going to look and say that the United States Senate refused to debate the most consequential foreign policy agreement in modern times. And people in Israel are going to wonder where did America go?

Has it ever crossed your mind that everybody in Israel who is in power, who is running the government today objects to this agreement?

The Presiding Officer:

The senator’s time has expired.

Mr. Graham:

Senator Corker, thank you for trying to have the debate we need. To my Democratic friends, you own this. You own every “I” and every “T” and every bullet and you own everything that is to follow, and it’s going to be holy hell.

#####

graham speech

Does ANYONE have informed thoughts on the deal with Iran?

The issue is, do you trust the judgment of these people? "President Barack Obama talks with national security staff in the Oval Office after being notified of the nuclear agreement with Iran. From left, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough; Jeffrey Prescott, NSC Senior Director for Iran, Iraq, Syria, and the Gulf States; National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice; Avril Haines, Deputy National Security Advisor for Counterterrorism and Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, July 13, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)"

The issue is, do you trust the judgment of these people? “President Barack Obama talks with national security staff in the Oval Office after being notified of the nuclear agreement with Iran. From left, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough; Jeffrey Prescott, NSC Senior Director for Iran, Iraq, Syria, and the Gulf States; National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice; Avril Haines, Deputy National Security Advisor for Counterterrorism and Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, July 13, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)”

This is rightly the dominant news story of the day, but it’s one that I hesitate to comment on:

A historic agreement Tuesday to limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief will ensure Iran has no possibility to achieve rapid nuclear weapons “breakout” capabilities for at least the next decade, U.S. leaders said.

“We have stopped the spread of nuclear weapons in this region,” said President Obama as he listed some of the pillars of the deal including international inspections, reductions in Iran’s centrifuges used to make nuclear fuel and a sharp cut in Iran’s stockpile of nuclear material.

“We put sanctions in place to get a diplomatic solution, and that is what we have done. . . . This deal offers an opportunity to move in a new direction. We should seize it,” said Obama, noting a potentially tough review ahead in Congress.

I hesitate because I don’t know enough to be able to judge the agreement.

Will it really limit, hinder or at least delay a nuclear Iran? How can I tell? Even if I had carefully studied the agreement, which I haven’t, I would not have the expertise to know whether the agreement will succeed on those critical points.

And neither does anyone else. The outcries from various Republicans criticizing the agreement are based on a simple variable — their lack of trust of the Obama administration.

If I’m going to listen to any objections, it would be the ones coming from Israel and Saudi Arabia — they at least have a life-and-death motivation to know what they are talking about.

It gets down to whom do you trust? And while I see the administration’s motives as pure, I worry that Iran always had an advantage in the negotiations, arising from the fact that POTUS really, really wanted an agreement.

As I say, that worries me. But do I know enough to judge this agreement? No, I do not. And that’s unsettling, because the question of whether Iran is more or less likely to develop and deploy nuclear weapons is one of the most important issues on this planet.

It’s disturbing, and embarrassing, that I have better-informed opinions on the fifth season of “Game of Thrones” than I do about this.

Lindsey Graham’s proposed presidential campaign

I see some of y’all have already raised the topic of Lindsey Graham forming an exploratory committee for a presidential campaign.

Kathryn asked whether he had a chance of beating Jeb Bush (in a way that indicated she knew the answer).

No, he does not.

But I’m pretty sure this is one of those “running to get free media in order to raise certain issues” campaigns. I think he assumes that none of those running will provide the kind of critique of the Obama administration on international affairs as he will. What I’ve been seeing lately suggests that both parties will be trying to out-populist each other on economic issues. To some extent, anyway. Graham’s probably reading stuff like this:

“You talk to any pollster, on the Democratic side or the Republican side, they’re in complete agreement on the idea that there has to be an economic populist message,” said Matthew Dowd, a top strategist for former president George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns.

And if you’re Graham, or John McCain, or me, that makes you think there’s not going to be nearly enough talk about collective security, or America’s relationships with the rest of the world.

I don’t think the campaign-to-be is about trying to beat anybody. But I could be wrong….

Obama’s bold move on relations with Cuba

Barack Obama seems determined to avoid irrelevance and have a real impact in his last years in office. Not long after stepping out unilaterally on immigration, he’s braving the potential ire of Cuban émigrés by stepping toward a more reasonable relationship with their homeland:

US President Barack Obama has hailed a “new chapter” in US relations with Cuba, announcing moves to normalise diplomatic and economic ties.

Mr Obama said the US’ current approach was “outdated” and the changes were the “most significant” in US policy towards Cuba in 50 years.

Cuban President Raul Castro said he welcomed the shift in a TV address.

The move includes the release of US contractor Alan Gross and three Cubans held in the US.

Wednesday’s announcement follows more than a year of secret talks in Canada and at the Vatican, directly involving the Pope….

Good for him. And good for the Pope, too. It’s good to have a Pontiff from Latin America, it seems…

Maybe Gowdy can help me understand the ‘why’ on Benghazi

Alternate headline: “Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi!”

You’ve no doubt seen the news by now that 4th District Congressman Trey Gowdy (you know him — he’s the guy who defeated Bob Inglis because Inglis, of all people, wasn’t “conservative” enough in the Tea Party year) will pitch for the GOP in the big game — that is, he’ll chair the select committee to investigate Benghazi, which a former White House staffer characterized recently with the immortal words, “Dude, this was like two years ago.”

As this was all breaking, I happened to watch the third season episode of “The West Wing,” “Ways and Means,” in which C.J. said:

Leo, we need to be investigated by someone who wants to kill us just to watch us die. We need someone perceived by the American people to be irresponsible, untrustworthy, partisan, ambitious, and thirsty for the limelight. Am I crazy, or is this not a job for the U.S. House of Representatives?

I don’t know what about this situation made me mention that. Unless the White House deliberately manipulated the House into doing this by releasing those emails.

Anyway, now that this is back before us, we ask the eternal question: Why?

Rep. Gowdy puts it this way:

“Twenty months after the Benghazi attacks, there remain unresolved questions about why the security was inadequate, our response during the siege itself, and our government’s interaction with the public after the attack. All of those lines of inquiry are legitimate and should be apolitical. Facts are neither red nor blue.

“While people are free to draw different conclusions from the facts, there should be no debate over whether the American public is entitled to have all of the facts. In a courtroom, juries are free to believe one witness over a hundred witnesses. But you cannot make that or any other credibility determination if you do not have access to all relevant witnesses, documents and other tangible evidence.

“Four of our fellow citizens were murdered, and a facility emblematic and representative of our country was attacked and burned on the anniversary of 9-11. Our fellow citizens are full well capable of processing the truth about the attacks and aftermath, and most assuredly entitled to hear it.”…

OK. If the hearings are going to focus on “why the security was inadequate” and “our response during the siege itself,” so that we might avoid such tragedies in the future, and make our embassies and consulates secure, let’s get started.

But where Republicans lose me is on the third thing, the thing they go on and on and on about: “our government’s interaction with the public after the attack.”

Frankly, I decided a long time ago that Susan Rice wasn’t the sharpest knife in the Obama administration’s cutlery drawer (although she looks awesome next to the kid who made the “Dude” crack). I was relieved when she didn’t become secretary of state, and disappointed when she became National Security Advisor. (As Sonny Corleone would say, “Nixon had Kissinger; look what I got.“)

I decided even longer ago than that that I had no interest in watching the Sunday morning political talk shows, and not just because I was busy going to Mass then. I figured out that if they made news, it would be on the wires (the Sunday shift has to write about something).

So what Susan Rice said on Sunday political talk shows doesn’t exactly rock my world.

Earlier in the week, I had seen reports that the administration had amended its initial assessment that the attacks were just about that horrendous anti-Muslim video. (Scout, I lost my link to that story, and you helped me find it, but I lost it again, so help!) I heard that within 24 hours of learning of the attack in Benghazi itself. I was satisfied.

If Susan Rice said something else, I’m not terribly surprised. But I’m not up in arms.

I find myself asking, “so what?” So Susan Rice tried to make the administration look good (if what Republicans keep saying is true). That seems to be pretty much in character for her.

I also find myself wondering why Republicans get so offended at the idea that the Muslim video triggered these attacks. It was causing demonstrations elsewhere. It just wasn’t crazy to think at first, however erroneously, it might have had something to do with Benghazi.

We know that expressions of disrespect toward the prophet on the part of private parties in the West had triggered violence in the Muslim world before. Why not now?

There’s some kind of dog whistle this issue blows on the right that is just inaudible to me.

But anyway, let’s collect those facts that are neither red nor blue, and figure out how to avoid this kind of deadly debacle in the future. But let’s not go on and on about irrelevancies that happen to scratch the itch of one end or the other of the partisan spectrum.

U.S. isolationism rising. Meanwhile, the world doesn’t cooperate and go away

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Here’s an ominous juxtaposition of stories from today’s news. First, this poll:

A near-majority of Americans say the United States should become less active in world affairs, a dramatic change from the post-9/11 national environment and one that comes as President Barack Obama tries to juggle crises in the Middle East and the Ukraine.

In a new NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll, 47 percent of respondents said the U.S. should dial down its activity in foreign affairs, versus 19 percent who said the country should be more active around the globe. Three in ten respondents said the current level is correct.

That represents a major flip in how Americans view world affairs since the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. At that time, nearly 4 in ten Americans said they wanted to see more engagement around the world, and just 14 percent said the nation should be less active.

Comparable studies in the mid-1990s found that about a third of Americans believed the U.S. should reduce its foreign policy footprint….

Hmmm… I wonder… Could that be the same 47 percent Mitt Romney was on about?

Meanwhile, we have this item from The Guardian, which no one could mistake for a pro-interventionist newspaper:

The biggest geopolitical risk of our times is not a conflict between Israel and Iran over nuclear proliferation. Nor is it the risk of chronic disorder in an arc of instability that now runs from the Maghreb all the way to the Hindu Kush. It is not even the risk of Cold War II between Russia and the West over Ukraine.

All of these are serious risks, of course; but none is as serious as the challenge of sustaining the peaceful character of China‘s rise. That is why it is particularly disturbing to hear Japanese and Chinese officials and analysts compare the countries’ bilateral relationship to that between Britain and Germany on the eve of the first world war.

The disputes between China and several of its neighbours over disputed islands and maritime claims (starting with the conflict with Japan) are just the tip of the iceberg. As China becomes an even greater economic power, it will become increasingly dependent on shipping routes for its imports of energy, other inputs, and goods. This implies the need to develop a blue-water navy to ensure that China’s economy cannot be strangled by a maritime blockade.

But what China considers a defensive imperative could be perceived as aggressive and expansionist by its neighbours and the United States. And what looks like a defensive imperative to the US and its Asian allies – building further military capacity in the region to manage China’s rise – could be perceived by China as an aggressive attempt to contain it….

It’s no accident that we see Americans gazing into their isolationist navels, anxiously taking their own temperatures, while a British publication gazes out at the world as it is. Even as it ceased to rule half the world, Britain has remained at least interested in what happens around the globe. Whereas the average American on the street will always default to isolationism, barring catastrophic events that temporarily turn his attention abroad.

Which, in a world that has relied since 1945, and especially since 1991, on American engagement — economic, diplomatic, humanitarian and yes, military — as a stabilizing force, is not a good thing.

For a generation, China has steadily been engaging more closely with the world, including nations in our own Monroe-Doctrine backyard. One of the first editorials I wrote for The State in 1994 was on the subject of Chinese diplomatic and trade initiatives in the Western Hemisphere. They have been so successful that, according to Stratfor, a Chinese economic slowdown has a deleterious effect on the region:

A looming slowdown in the Chinese economy promises trouble for China’s economic partners in Latin America, especially commodity exporters. The growing relationship between China and Latin America is on display this week as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi tours the region in a trip that will wrap up April 26. Wang is visiting Cuba, Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina to discuss bilateral financing and trade deals.

China’s slowing economy and potential for domestic economic instability threatens to sharply lower demand for key commodities exported by Latin American countries. Particularly vulnerable are countries such as Brazil, Peru and Chile that have seen China rise in importance as an export destination…

My relativist friends will say that’s fine. We had our time; maybe it’s China’s turn. All nations are alike — there’s nothing exceptional about our own; any perception to the contrary is pure, narrow chauvinism — and a world in which China is the dominant influencer is no worse than one that turns to America.

As you know, I believe they couldn’t be more wrong.

Fortunately, everyone who has held the White House in my lifetime agrees with me — or at the very least says he agrees with me, whatever his actions may say. Our serious political discussions tend to be about ways and means, not ultimate aims. In fact, while he was defending a foreign policy based on the assumption that intervening in Iraq was the worst foreign policy mistake of our time (with which I’m bound to disagree, at least somewhat), I rather like the president’s invocation of a doctrine based on singles and doubles rather than home runs:

MANILA — At a news conference in the Philippines on Monday afternoon, President Obama initially scoffed when a reporter asked him to explain the “Obama doctrine” in light of his handling of recent world events.

But then he seemed to embrace the idea. Surveying hot spots from Syria to Ukraine, Obama laid out an incremental, dogged approach to foreign relations that relies on the United States deploying every possible economic and institutional lever before resorting to armed force.

“That may not always be sexy. That may not always attract a lot of attention, and it doesn’t make for good argument on Sunday morning shows,” said Obama, who is nearing the end of a week-long, four-nation tour of Asia. “But it avoids errors. You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run. But we steadily advance the interests of the American people and our partnership with folks around the world.”…

The problem with isolationists is that they don’t even want us to get up to bat. They don’t even want to show up for the game. Which is not good for the country, and even worse for the rest of the world.

The president in the Philippines -- reaching out, engaging with the world.

The president in the Philippines — reaching out, engaging with the world.

Bright goes out of his way to make Graham look good

To reasonable people. You know, people who would think that a member of a loyal opposition would want to help the secretary of state with a difficult matter bearing on a huge international crisis.

Here’s the release from Lee Bright:

Offers Aid to Ultra Liberal Who Embarrassed Himself Last Week

If there were any doubt that Lindsey Graham sees himself as the Senate Republican who helps liberals defeat conservatives in Congress, it was all removed yesterday as an open mic caught Graham in an awkwardly candid moment – offering political help to Secretary of State John Kerry. This is the same John Kerry who displayed an infantile view of the world last week with his “19th century” comments regarding Vladimir Putin and the Ukraine.

In a moment eerily reminiscent of Obama’s unfortunate open mic moment with Dmitry Medvedev – then President and now Prime Minister of Russia – Graham whispered to Kerry to “let me know what I can do to help you with Boehner,” indicating that the S.C. Senator would strong arm the Republican House Speaker.

“I don’t know what it is about Lindsey Graham, but he’s never seen a chance to work with liberals to sabotage his own party that he didn’t take,” said Lee Bright, the Tea Party candidate challenging Graham in the June Senate Primary. “And in this case, he was channeling his inner Obama, trying to work with a Secretary of State who just a week ago made a fool of himself on the international stage. When he knows the microphone is on, Graham pretends to be this big conservative. We see the real Lindsey exposed in this instance. Then again, I think a lot of South Carolina voters already know the real Lindsey Graham.”

###

How about that weird touch, implying that the reason likely GOP primary voters wouldn’t want anyone to help Kerry is because of some faux pas he committed last week. You would think that all he would need would be to say “John Kerry,” because the SecState is, after all, John Kerry. Given his rep among Republicans, of course, the “ultra-liberal” tag is redundant, but this is coming from a segment of the GOP where redundant constructions are all the rage (how about that weird one I keep seeing, “left liberal”?).

Is the release written this way because Bright thinks his likely supporters aren’t very, you know, Bright? Why else would he have to over-explain who John Kerry is, right down to the non-sequitur about something he said last week? Does he think they can’t remember as far back as 2004?

As for what Graham said…

That is exactly the kind of behavior we should expect of our elected representatives of both parties. It was reminiscent of the collegiality that was once so common in the Senate, and which made the deliberative process possibly under difficult circumstances. It was a moment in which an honest lawmaker said, “Look, all partisan B.S. aside, you’re dealing with a difficult foreign policy situation, and I’m an American, and I’m here to help.”

Good for Lindsey. It’s good that we have at least one Senator in Washington who still understands that the idiocy is supposed to stop at the water’s edge.

Graham Shocker! Senator seeking answers on… you guessed it… Benghazi. Still.

This just in from our senior U.S. senator:

Graham on Benghazi

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today made this statement on Benghazi.

“I’m pleased to hear that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers is going to follow up on what appears to be major inconsistencies in former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell’s testimony.  However, before calling him to testify, I strongly encourage the House and Senate leadership to establish a joint select committee to investigate this matter.

“For too long we have had various House and Senate committees, along with the State Department’s Accountability Review Board (ARB), investigating the small pieces of Benghazi within their jurisdictions.  These are sometimes disjointed and do not always allow for a full and thorough investigation.

“A joint select committee is the best means to ensure Benghazi is fully investigated and all questions are answered once and for all.  The American people, and most importantly, the families of the four Americans who died in the attack, deserve nothing less. 

“As for Mr. Morell, he has publicly stated he welcomes the opportunity to testify in an open hearing.  To ensure proper accountability, I believe we need to declassify his previous testimony and release all communications – written, recorded, audio, and video — involving Mr. Morell’s discussions about the talking points and the role he played in this entire episode.

“Mr. Morell, in a written statement, as well as Susan Rice in her appearance last week on television, both indicated the Administration provided the best evidence available to the public on September 16, 2012.  It’s now time to declassify all the communications regarding the attack on our compounds in Benghazi so we can properly account for these statements.

“Finally, I strongly believe it will be impossible to close the books on what happened in Benghazi unless Susan Rice is called to testify before Congress about the role she played.  Although she has appeared on television shows, she has never been required to appear before Congress to answer questions about Benghazi.

“The President has said on numerous occasions that as more information is made available he would share it with the public. This statement has not borne fruit. 

“It’s past time we clear the air on Benghazi by declassifying all relevant information and having all witnesses testify. We have learned much over the past 17 months about Benghazi that justifies recalling Mr. Morell, General Petraeus, former Secretary of State Clinton, Ambassador Susan Rice and others before a joint select committee of Congress.”

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It seems safe to say that Sen. Graham has reached the Ahab stage in his quest for… something… on this topic.

That said, sure, make the hearings joint, so senators can participate. I’m a little concerned about his blanket demand for declassification — maybe there are some aspects of this that need to remain classified, and I would think Graham of all people would appreciate that.

But, you know, put Susan Rice in the hot seat. Let’s have the hearings. And let chips fall where they may. Take whatever lessons are learned and apply them to prevent future security disasters such as this. And then let’s talk about other stuff.