Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A Naive Look At Power

The Washington Post has two articles on the U.S. foreign policies today, both of them asking what George Bush should do about the Israel-Hezbullah conflict. Oddly, they both advocate a more decisive grip than the one Bush has recently been showing (except for that bit about Angela Merkel's shoulders); oddly, because they express the views of two political opposites. First, the fairly liberal/centrist David Ignatius says this:

Given the American stakes in this crisis, the Bush administration's passivity is inexplicable. Hezbollah and Israel have been tossing lighted matches back and forth in a region soaked with gasoline, and the world is waiting for robust American diplomacy. Instead we see a tongue-tied superpower, led by a president who grumbles into an open mike in St. Petersburg that Kofi Annan should get on the phone to Syria and make it all go away, or maybe Condoleezza Rice should get on a plane to the Middle East.

At first glance this is not so different from the anger of the neocons at Bush's hands-off (heh) policy, discussed here in an article about the reactions from the right-wing of the Republican party:

Conservatives complain that the United States is hunkered down in Iraq without enough troops or a strategy to crush the insurgency. They see autocrats in Egypt and Russia cracking down on dissenters with scant comment from Washington, North Korea firing missiles without consequence, and Iran playing for time to develop nuclear weapons while the Bush administration engages in fruitless diplomacy with European allies. They believe that a perception that the administration is weak and without options is emboldening Syria and Iran and the Hezbollah radicals they help sponsor in Lebanon.

And this part is really, really funny:

Kenneth Adelman, a Reagan administration arms-control official who is close to Vice President Cheney, said he believes foreign policy innovation for White House ended with Bush's second inaugural address, a call to spread democracy throughout the world.

"What they are doing on North Korea or Iran is what [Sen. John F.] Kerry would do, what a normal middle-of-the-road president would do," he said. "This administration prided itself on molding history, not just reacting to events. Its a normal foreign policy right now. It's the triumph of Kerryism."

Mr. Adelman, no way could George Bush ever be described as a middle-of-the-road president. I'm laughing so hard that my tummy hurts. - Never mind.

This article is fascinating in terminology. The words "tough" and "toughness" appear at least three times in the various quotes. It seems that to be a wingnut is to be tough, even if one happens to be comfortably located in the peaceful part of the world. It's all about perceptions, methinks. What I call penis-measuring games (though women can participate in this version, too).

The naive look at power I want to take has to do with this, but also with something else: the results from the use of aggression, and the naive way of characterizing these is to divide them into increased danger or decreased danger. If you do a similar naive division of the ways of using power into diplomacy and military intervention you get a nice two-by-two cell table which I'm not going to reproduce here. But what the cells would contain are these four possibilities:

1. Diplomacy used; increased danger results.
2. Diplomacy used; decreased danger results.
3. Military intervention used; increased danger results.
4. Military intervention used; decreased danger results.

If you are less naive than I am you could add "no change in danger" and various other policies but the point I'm trying to make wouldn't change. And the point is that the toughness or thrustiness or whatever of the policy used should not be determined by the flavor of the policy but by its results. Sometimes military intervention is the right thing to do, sometimes diplomacy is the right thing to do. Given the large human suffering wars cause one might be justified in leaning towards peaceful diplomacy, but exceptions do exist.

Consider the wingnut discourse in this context. They seem to argue that points 3. and 4. in my list are "molding" history, and I guess they're right in that, though perhaps not in the way they intended. Remember how the oracle of Delphi told Croesus that if he attacked Persia a great country would be destroyed? And it was destroyed. Sadly, it was his own country.

Likewise, wingnuts view points 1. and 2. on my list as always effete, cowardly and pointless. Even if they work. And this is why I call the wingnut strategies penis-length competitions.

All of which is to point out that even though the two articles have similar-sounding recommendations their underpinnings are quite different.