Fareed Zakaria calls John McCain’s Foreign Policy Vision Radical

I won’t be posting much over the next week or so as grading and exams are taking up most of my time. I did want, however, to alert my students to this interesting article by Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria on Republican Presidential candidate John McCain’s foreign policy philosophy. Zakaria agrees with Pat Buchanan and others at the American Conservative magazine that McCain’s foreign policy views are a radical break with past administrations (Democratic and Republican). Zakaria writes:

On March 26, McCain gave a speech on foreign policy in Los Angeles that was billed as his most comprehensive statement on the subject. It contained within it the most radical idea put forward by a major candidate for the presidency in 25 years. Yet almost no one noticed.

I guess that’s because the American media knows what the real issues are–Barack Obama refusing coffee for orange juice at a diner in Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton doing shots in a Pennsylvania bar (were they body shots?), and lapel flag pins.

In his speech McCain proposed that the United States expel Russia from the G8, the group of advanced industrial countries. Moscow was included in this body in the 1990s to recognize and reward it for peacefully ending the cold war on Western terms, dismantling the Soviet empire and withdrawing from large chunks of the old Russian Empire as well. McCain also proposed that the United States should expand the G8 by taking in India and Brazil—but pointedly excluded China from the councils of power.

We have spent months debating Barack Obama’s suggestion that he might, under some circumstances, meet with Iranians and Venezuelans. It is a sign of what is wrong with the foreign-policy debate that this idea is treated as a revolution in U.S. policy while McCain’s proposal has barely registered. What McCain has announced is momentous—that the United States should adopt a policy of active exclusion and hostility toward two major global powers. It would reverse a decades-old bipartisan American policy of integrating these two countries into the global order, a policy that began under Richard Nixon (with Beijing) and continued under Ronald Reagan (with Moscow). It is a policy that would alienate many countries in Europe and Asia who would see it as an attempt by Washington to begin a new cold war.

This is bang on. Hillary Clinton and others, who have tried to trash Obama on his views about dialogue with putative enemies would do well to remember that it was ultimately dialogue with China and the Soviet Union that lessened tensions between these states and the United States. What McCain wants to do is to return the world to the situation ex-ante, for what strategic reason I’m not sure. This is, in the immortal words of Chazz Michael Michaels, “mind-bottling!”

I write this with sadness because I greatly admire John McCain, a man of intelligence, honor and enormous personal and political courage. I also agree with much of what else he said in that speech in Los Angeles. But in recent years, McCain has turned into a foreign-policy schizophrenic, alternating between neoconservative posturing and realist common sense. His speech reads like it was written by two very different people, each one given an allotment of a few paragraphs on every topic.

The neoconservative vision within the speech is essentially an affirmation of ideology. Not only does it declare war on Russia and China, it places the United States in active opposition to all nondemocracies. It proposes a League of Democracies, which would presumably play the role that the United Nations now does, except that all nondemocracies would be cast outside the pale. The approach lacks any strategic framework. What would be the gain from so alienating two great powers? How would the League of Democracies fight terrorism while excluding countries like Jordan, Morocco, Egypt and Singapore? What would be the gain to the average American to lessen our influence with Saudi Arabia, the central banker of oil, in a world in which we are still crucially dependent on that energy source?

How many of these questions do you think will be asked at the first Presidential Debate? My over/under is one. Zakaria is right that McCain’s foreign policy vision is a triumph of ideology over strategy. Here is where McCain would most clearly take the mantle from George Bush and embark upon a third term for the ideological and policy goals of the current administration. “The King is dead…long live the king!”

US Missile Test–Sign of an Arms Race in Space?

The United States military has shot down a stray satellite via sea-launched missile. While the Pentagon insists that the episode was meant to prevent the falling satellite from becoming a potential hazard upon its descent to earth, military analysts are not persuaded. It will be difficult to disabuse those with a realist mindset that the exercise was not in response to China’s similar missile exercise in January 2007. Time Magazine’s Jeffrey Kluger writes:

sm3_missle_0220.jpgThis week, the Pentagon tried something different. On Wednesday evening, it announced that it successfully launched a sea-based missile and shot down a crippled satellite gliding 150 miles overhead, in a $60 million effort to blast it out of the sky before it could tumble home and hurt someone. It’s been a neat little feat on the part of the military planners — but that doesn’t mean they’re telling the whole truth about why they bothered in the first place.

The clay pigeon in the military’s cross hairs was an unnamed, 5,000-lb. spy satellite that was launched in 2006 and never quite got its purchase in space, suffering a malfunction almost immediately upon its arrival in orbit. Comparatively low-orbiting craft like this one tumble back to Earth faster than high-orbiting ones, as the upper wisps of the planet’s atmosphere produce increasing amounts of drag, pulling the object lower and lower. This one was on a trajectory that would have caused it to begin its terminal plunge sometime in March, sending it on a fiery descent that should have entirely — or at least mostly — incinerated it.

So why make the effort at such a complicated bit of sharpshooting just to bag a target that was coming down anyway? The Pentagon says it’s all about safety. Five thousand pounds of out-of-control satellite can do an awful lot of damage if it drops on the wrong spot. What’s more, this particular satellite is carrying a 500-lb. tank of frozen hydrazine fuel — nasty stuff if you’re unlucky enough to inhale it. Striking the ground at reentry speed, the gas could immediately disperse over a patch of ground as big as two football fields…

The more believable explanation for the duck hunt is that it’s been an exercise in politics rather than safety. Washington was none too pleased in January of 2007 when China shot down one of its own weather satellites after it had outlived its usefulness, a bit of technological sword-rattling that proved it could target any other nation’s orbiting hardware with equal ease. Beijing too made vague claims of worrying about the public weal, but Washington saw the act more as the political statement it probably was, and concluded — correctly — that American spy satellites are not quite as safe as they once were. An American shootdown would be one way to return the gesture. The timing is particularly suspicious since Russia and China issued a joint condemnation of the militarization of space only days before the Pentagon went public with its plans. While Beijing’s sudden pacifism is hardly credible after it own exercise in cosmic skeet-shooting, neither is the Washington’s insistence that there is no linkage between the two events.

Another possibility is that the Pentagon was indeed nervous about something aboard the satellite, but not the tank of fuel. Spy satellites are, by definition, made of secret hardware, and nothing so pleases one military power as the chance to seize and pick over the technology of another. Should American camera and communications components fall into the wrong hands, whatever tactical advantage was gained in developing them would be lost.

Condoleeza Rice, International Relations Theory and the Bush Administration

In class today, I tried to convince you that understanding IR from a theoretical perspective was not simply some abstract, pedantic pursuit, but that the theoretical lens through which we view international relations does have real-world implications, many of which are dramatic.

I noted the role of Condoleeza Rice as the chief National Security Advisor to President Bush during his first term and also noted that Rice has long held a realist view of international relations. As you must know by now (I think I’ve mentioned it about 503 times since the beginning of the semester), realists view the state as the only prominent actor in international affairs. This was Rice’s view upon assuming her new position and this was manifested in the security objectives of the incoming administration, which did not believe, initially, that a non-state actor like Al Qaeda was a grave threat to the security of the United States.

Here are excerpts from Rice’s article in Foreign Affairs magazine in the midst of the 2000 presidential election campaign:

Summary: With no Soviet threat, America has found it exceedingly difficult to define its “national interest.” Foreign policy in a Republican administration should refocus the country on key priorities: building a military ready to ensure American power, coping with rogue regimes, and managing Beijing and Moscow. Above all, the next president must be comfortable with America’s special role as the world’s leader…

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