Fear Factor

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"Fear Factor"

Max Boot exhorts us to “ask yourself which presidential candidate an Ahmadinejad, Assad or Kim would fear the most” before observing that “the leading candidate to scare the snot out of our enemies is a certain former aviator who has been noted for his pugnacity and his unwavering support of the American war effort in Iraq.” Kevin Drum remarks:

Now, you might think that after seven years of trying exactly this, with only the current collapse in our fortunes to show for it, the neocon establishment might at least pause for a moment to wonder if there’s more to foreign policy than scaring the snot out of our enemies. But no. The real problem, apparently, is simply that the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld administration wasn’t good enough at it. Not bellicose enough. Not unilateral enough. Not warlike enough. What America needs is someone even more bloodthirsty than the crew that got us into this mess. Time to double down, folks.

The Boot view does provide a window into a fundamental mistake made by the right in its approach to foreign policy. He sees this domain as fundamentally zero sum. Syria, Iran, and North Korea are our enemies. Therefore, what’s bad for them is good for us. Therefore, if they’re frightened, we must be win. Therefore, if foreigners find John McCain frightening, he’s a good president.

The real world doesn’t work this way. If Saddam Hussein wasn’t frightened of George W. Bush and the United States of America in 2002, then he was making a big mistake. He had good reason to fear Bush, just as Iranians would have good reason to fear John McCain. The trouble is that international relations isn’t zero sum. Even America’s relationship with someone as odious as Saddam wasn’t zero sum. We were able to take action that was incredibly harmful to Saddam personally, and to the cause of his followers in Iraq, but it was also incredibly harmful to the United States. Another couple of rounds of conflict with enemies like Syria, Iran, and North Korea (and, hey, why not Venezuela, too) and we may not have any enemies left but we’ll still be weaker than we were before.

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