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Round and Round We Go

By Matthew Yglesias

"Round and Round We Go"

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Part of the perverse logic of conservative foreign policy founded on a bizarre combination of hysteria and hubris is that there’s this kind of quicksand phenomenon where the worse things get, the more you need to keep flailing. I think that’s the best way in which to understand this miasma of strategic confusion from Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. As expected, it’s riddled with contradictions. Russia is simultaneously powerful enough to mount “a challenge to the political order and values at the heart of the continent” (i.e., Europe) but also so pathetic that an approach to Russia based on hollow sloganeering about “solidarity with the people of Georgia” will be sufficient to turn back the challenge. They call vaguely for “an alliance can frustrate these designs and diminish our dependence on the foreign oil that is responsible for the higher energy prices here at home” but propose no concrete steps to reduce oil dependence. And their only tangible policy proposal is a bunch of missile defense nonsense:

The U.S. must also reaffirm its commitment to allies that have been the targets of Russian bullying because of their willingness to work with Washington. The recent missile-defense agreement between Poland and the U.S., for instance, is not aimed at Russia. But this has not stopped senior Russian officials from speaking openly about military retaliation against Warsaw. Irrespective of our political differences over missile defense, Democrats and Republicans should join together in Congress to pledge solidarity with Poland, along with the Czech Republic, against these outrageous Russian threats.

It would be nice if we could stop bullshitting around about this. From the beginning, the main international issue with the missile defense program has been that Russia views it as a means of undermining the credibility of their nuclear deterrent and rendering them available to American nuclear first strike. At the same time, the technology doesn’t work! And critics have long argued that it makes little sense to proceed with unworkable technology that promises to badly damage our relationship with Russia. And yet the missile defense proponents pressed on and now are shocked — shocked! — that Russia isn’t playing nice. At which point Poland, clearly as a move sponsored by a desire to spit at Russia because of Moscow’s bad behavior, signs on to the missile plan. So Russia gets mad. And this is further evidence of Russian perfidy.

Given that we have no way of forcibly dislodging Russia from Georgia, a person genuinely concerned with Georgia’s interests might see a bargaining opportunity. Here we have a missile defense program that terrifies the Russians, yet does us no good against the rogue states that are nominally its target. A deal could be struck here. A deal that would not only help secure our objectives in Georgia but would also allow the US-Russian bilateral relationship to refocus on vital issues of terrorism and nuclear proliferation rather than ethnic disputes in a remote mountain region.

But Graham and Lieberman don’t see it that way. Instead, given that the mutual cycle of hostile actions has thus far made Russia, the United States, and Georgia all worse off than we were before, the only reasonable course of action is to keep twirling ’round the downward spiral and just kind of hope that things start working out well. After all, if we do what they want then soon enough some Iran-related issue will show up at the UN Security Council, Russia won’t cooperate with us, and then Lieberman and Graham will claim “vindication” of their “prescient” views about the perfidy of Moscow. And then we can go around again.

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