The War on Slogans

In the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs, John Edwards and Rudy Giuliani were invited to submit their foreign policy outlines - here, and here. (I previously covered those of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama). More on Rudy in a forthcoming post, but for now let's have a look at John Edwards.

First of all, the former North Carolina Senator and 2004 Vice-Presidential candidate submitted a plan with more maturity and finesse than Obama, who presented a ridiculous list of pie-in-the-sky campaign promises.

None of the 4 outlines published thus far, however. differ substantially from current US policy under the Bush administration, and yes, that includes the Democrats Obama and Edwards (don't hold your breath for any groundbreaking changes to the status quo from Ms. Clinton). They all call for continued US intervention in global affairs, perhaps even military, and all strongly believe in projecting American values onto the rest of the world through democracy promotion, health care, human rights, and other pet projects. Judging by these Republicrat ideals presented thus far, the US is going to try to soften its image with an neoconservative "army" of civilians in button-downs and khakis, using all of their technocratic might to "make the world safe for democracy". Edwards says: (continued...)

"In the coming years, we will most likely see an increasing need to stabilize weak and failing states and provide humanitarian assistance to the victims of disasters across the world.

These missions are demanding, dangerous, and expensive. They require a wide range of resources and sources of knowledge, from experts in water purification to medical technicians, judges to corrections officers, bankers to stock-market analysts...To resolve these problems, I will establish a Marshall Corps during my first year in office...patterned after the military reserves, will consist of at least 10,000 civilian experts who could be deployed abroad to serve in reconstruction, stabilization, and humanitarian missions. They will be on the frontline in the United States' reengagement with the world."

Edwards also gets nostalgic about America's global image under Presidents like JFK and Ronald Reagan.
"This is about much more than convincing people to like us. There was a time when a president did not speak just to Americans -- he spoke to the world. People thousands of miles away would gather to listen to someone they called, without irony, 'the leader of the free world'...We need to reach out to ordinary men and women from Egypt to Indonesia and convince them, once again, that the United States is a force to be admired."
Sounds delicious. Shall we order a side of mloukhia with that?

The other interesting trend, particular in Edwards' and Giuliani's essays, was a total rejection of the phrase "War on Terror":

"The 'war on terror' approach has backfired, straining our military to the breaking point while allowing the threat of terrorism to grow. 'War on terror' is a slogan designed for politics, not a strategy to make the United States safe. It is a bumper sticker, not a plan. Worst of all, the 'war on terror' has failed. Instead of making the United States safer, it has spawned even more terrorism -- as we have seen so tragically in Iraq -- and left us with fewer allies.

...many generals and national security experts have criticized the president's 'war on terror' approach. Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni has said that the 'war on terror' is a counterproductive doctrine...[the] new chief of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) -- has instructed his staff to stop saying that we are in a 'long war.' These leaders know that we need substance, not slogans.

Yet the politics of fear remains tempting. Some have chosen to pillory those who dare question the concept of a 'war on terror' as somehow weak. But these attacks unmask the slogan for what it is: a political sledgehammer used to stifle debate and justify policies that would otherwise be utterly unacceptable."

Edwards seems quite defensive about appearing timid, so he makes sure to flex his muscles:

"There is no question that we must confront terrorist groups such as al Qaeda with the full force of our military might. As commander in chief, I will never hesitate to apply the full extent of our security apparatus to protect our vital interests, take measures to root out terrorist cells, and strike swiftly and forcefully against those who seek to harm us."
But he follows up his tough-talk by blaming the Bush Administration's execution of the strategy.
"The Bush administration has walked the United States right into the terrorists' trap. By framing this struggle against extremism as a war, it has reinforced the jihadists' narrative that we want to conquer the Muslim world and that there is a 'clash of civilizations' pitting the West against Islam. From Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib, the 'war on terror' has tragically become the recruitment poster al Qaeda wanted."
While I do believe that the Bush Administration's prosecution of the "War on Terror" (or whatever it's fashionable to call it these days) largely resembles the removal of microscopic malignant tumors from a vital organ using a butter knife, the idea that Bush alone is responsible for an increase in terrorism is ridiculous. Yes, I concede that his approach has certainly healed no wounds, but someone willing to blow himself up as a means of murdering others is unlikely to be swayed by the minutiae of US policy.

Take, for example, the London subway bombers. After they struck, I recall debating with someone who argued that a withdrawal from Iraq would have prevented these suicide attacks. I find that totally implausible. An individual sick enough to go to the lengths that such terrorists do cannot be evaluated using normal human logic and will always find an excuse to take out anger in a murderous way. With individuals like that, appeasement will certainly not work. Nevertheless, Edwards continues:

"Instead of reengaging with the peoples of the world, we have driven too many into the terrorists' arms. In fact, defining the current struggle against radical Islamists as a war minimizes the challenge we face by suggesting that the fight against Islamist extremism can be won on the battlefield alone."
And once again, his answer is not to reverse the trend of imperialism and excessive intervention into the affairs of other sovereign nations, but to dress up American operatives in pastel shades and call them a "Marshall corps".

Edwards' outline is proof positive that the easiest job in the world is to be an opposition politician. Just toss together a few clichés about the ineffectiveness or unpopularity of the current leader, and make vague statements about change with no specifics. According to Edwards:

  • Our enemies are taking advantage of the United States' declining Qaeda has expanded its reach not only across Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan but even in Europe
  • Iran has been emboldened by the Bush administration's ineffective policies and has announced plans to expand its nuclear program.
  • China is capitalizing on the United States' current unpopularity to project its own "soft power"
  • Russia is bullying its neighbors while openly defying the United States and Europe

On the plus side, Edwards deserves credit for recognizing the potential impact of climate change on geopolitics, even if he offers no solutions. (note to conservatives: whether climate change is a natural phenomenon or induced by industrial human activity, no one denies that it is a reality.) And his listing of purposes for the US military is not perfect, but also not overreaching.

  1. deterring or responding to those who wish to do us harm
  2. ensuring that the problems of weak and failing states do not create dangers for the United States
  3. maintaining our strategic advantage over major competitor states, in part so that they choose to cooperate with us, rather than challenge our interests militarily

However, Edwards' approach to other global issues brings big government to a whole new frightening level. His idea of moral leadership implies an American obligation to sanitize and educate every child on the globe.

"I will increase our funding for global primary education sixfold, with a $3 billion annual effort to educate poor children in countries with a history of violent extremism. Through the U.S. Agency for International Development and multilateral aid organizations, I will also pursue reform of the school systems in developing countries, working to eliminate school fees and required expenses for books and uniforms, which effectively bar millions of children from enrolling; investing in teacher education, classroom expansion, and teaching materials; and helping to provide safe and hygienic facilities for all students.

Finally, as president, I will lead an effort to increase opportunity for millions of people by adding $750 million annually for microcredit programs."

These are all noble goals, but in my opinion fall under the purview of NGOs, not the United States Government. Why should our tax dollars be used to support microcredit when funds devoted to microloans solicit investors and return dividends to them? It's a profit-making enterprise and therefore should be left alone. As for education in poor countries; it has often occurred to me, having seen many a young talib in Senegal beg me for money, that Saudi dollars could flow in to brainwash these poor youngsters in the absence of proper schools. But again, that is why responsible American NGOs, charities, and foundations - either religious or secular - should lead the charge, not our federal government. But the really dramatic promise of Edwards reads:
"I will concentrate on reversing the spread of these three deadly diseases (AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria) by guaranteeing universal access to preventive drugs and treatment by 2010. I will also substantially increase U.S. funding for clean-water programs. Finally, I will direct U.S. agencies to lead an international effort to dramatically increase preventive care, beginning with increased vaccinations and the provision of sterile equipment and basic medications."

And to accomplish these benevolent deeds, Edwards wants to add more bureaucracy to the Federal Government:

"I will create a new cabinet-level position to coordinate global development policies across the government. I will also replace Kennedy's Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 with a Global Development Act to modernize and consolidate development assistance...With measures like these, we can reclaim our historic role as a moral leader of the world while at the same time making the world safer and more secure for the United States."
But, of course, more perilous for the American taxpayer.