Spackerman has the muck on DC’s newest “regime change in Iran” think tank.
Hilzoy and Robert Farley offer up what I would consider to be the standard philosopher’s rejoinder to Ezra Klein’s fatwa against “values” as a center of US foreign policy, namely that policy choices irreducibly implicate value decisions and allegedly value-free concepts like “the national interest” are, in fact, both contestable and, in practice, contested.
I think this is right, but I also think it misses the true force of Ezra’s point. The point isn’t, literally, that the problem is that we have “too much values” in our foreign policy and need to somehow wring it out with a judicious focus on consequences and pragmatism. The point, rather, is that our political debate has become unhealthily deductive — with more time and column-inches being spent on the part of the argument that goes “does policy X flow logically from value Y” than on the part that asks “if we do Y, what’s going to happen?”
Basically, an enormous amount of intellectual energy has been expended since 9/11 on the proposition that we can effectively outline policies for coping with problems emerging from the Muslim world without availing ourselves of rigorous empirical knowledge of the countries or people in question. This makes sense because the broad American elite basically had no knowledge of these issues. Insofar as the most important people were knowledgeable about any foreign places, those places tended to be in Eastern Europe or the Balkans. Even worse, the community of regional specialists on the Middle East and Persian Gulf regions tend to hold politically unacceptable opinions about the US-Israel relationship and, indeed, the general thrust of US policy in the area. Under the circumstances, the idea that better policy requires better reasoning about values has a natural appeal, but relatively little actual utility.
On the other hand, I do think it’s important for progressives to develop more effective public articulations of what it is we’re trying to say about US foreign policy, and I do think that communicating these ideas to a mass public requires this kind of flight into the ether of values. In that sense, I think Anne-Marie Slaughter’s (the nominal subject of this conversation) ability to link up specific policy ideas to values-stuff is actually extremely valuable.
For instance, right now we are trying to both extend the reach of the Maliki government as far as possible across the country and also to support Sunnis in their sectarian skirmishes against both Shiites and other Sunnis wherever an alliance is possible. Not surprisingly, these two objectives are almost definitionally at odds with each other. We’re foolish to even try to promote both a factionalist and a federalist effort at the same time, but we’re especially foolish when that means trying to bring a Shiite-dominated government into power over a land peppered with U.S.-supported Sunni tribal regions. My impression is that even as individual efforts these would both sink anyhow. But it’s amazing that, with all of the resources the administration has handed over to the war effort, we’re still approaching problems in such a way that even incremental plans are more likely to fail than they ought to be.
It’s important to understand that this is the context in which the training fantasies of the “withdrawal lite” school of thought are unfolding. The training is a fallback position, a useful psychological crutch that people have also convinced themselves is a useful political crutch, but it has nothing to do with what’s happening on the ground. If there are two sides fighting and you want one of them to win then, sure, you can train your side. But we’re just training everyone who’ll agree to be trained; equipping multiple sides in a civil conflict and creating a situation where the weapons and expertise we’re providing is just as likely to be deployed against our interests as in favor of them two or four years down the road.
DOD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Summer M. Anderson, U.S. Navy.