"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

As if on cue... (edit at bottom)

I said yesterday that I was hoping to get a little bit into what the elections might mean for Yemen policy, and, as if on cue, albeit by a tangential way, Lindsey Graham provides a white hot dose of strident militancy. 

If President Barack Obama "decides to be tough with Iran beyond sanctions, I think he is going to feel a lot of Republican support for the idea that we cannot let Iran develop a nuclear weapon," he told the Halifax International Security Forum.
"The last thing America wants is another military conflict, but the last thing the world needs is a nuclear-armed Iran... Containment is off the table."
The South Carolina Republican saw the United States going to war with the Islamic republic "not to just neutralize their nuclear program, but to sink their navy, destroy their air force and deliver a decisive blow to the Revolutionary Guard, in other words neuter that regime."

I've always kind of had a soft spot for Graham- he seems like he is a funny guy, and was pretty much the only Republican grown-up during the Supreme Court nomination hearings (you mean Sotomayor isn't a racist brainless affirmative action baby?), but this is nuts.  I don't know enough about Iran to say that we might have to accept containment as a strategy, and so would be reluctant to take an option off the table (or to leave a cliche unmined), but I don't know anyone in the world who advocates this kind of nonsense.  Tactical strikes to take out nuclear capabilities are dangerous and possibly impossible, but they seem to be an option if things really go south.  A full-out war is an incredible idea.

It is kind of like he, and others like him, forget the entire last decade.  Now that combat operations in Iraq are "over" and we've won (well, that's what I've heard), the horror and muck and impossibility of that war can recede into the distant past, and invading a larger and better-armed country is going to be a walk in the park.  We might be met with flowers, even.

I don't want to get too much into Iran qua Iran, as much as the underlying message in Graham's statement.  It is the first part that I think can give us a clue to post-election thinking.  In saying that if Obama wants to be more militant, he can expect Republican support.  This is sort of a twisted olive branch.  There are going to be huge legislative battles, with an eye toward 2012, over health care and any form of regulation.  Given Democratic control of the Senate and the veto pen, health care won't be overturned, but there will be constant attempts in order to force the Dems to seem out of touch and uncaring and arrogant and dismissive of the public.  Gridlock, investigations and accusations are the only things on the domestic menu for the next two years.   But in foreign policy- well, maybe we can find some middle ground, if the middle shifts violently to the right.

What this means for Yemen is, of course, money.  The President controls foreign policy, but Congress controls the purse, and a long-time Republican talking point is non-military foreign aid.  Cutting aid is a pet project.  Eric Cantor, incoming speaking John Boehner's best buddy, has talked about cutting aid to countries that don't share US interests (but exempting Israel from normal aid channels so its money can't be touched).  One can clearly see a path where Yemen is painted a country without aligning interests- even though, in the real world, it is a childish fantasy to assume that any two nations will have perfect harmony in their goals; the grown-up thing to do is work out where common interests exist.  The cumulative message is that if the President doesn't want to spend his entire time fighting Congress, he has to be considerably more militant and focus entirely on things that go boom.

This is wildly dangerous.  One of our most important goals in Yemen has to be to reduce our military footprint, and replace it with something more benign.  This doesn't mean coddling terrorists or just letting them be, it means being smart and playing the PR game to sap some support from AQAP (Greg talks about op-eds in Arabic combating AQAP's theology and justifications.  I assume those who read this blog read Waq al-Waq, but if you don't make sure you read the whole piece I linked to there.  It shows again, as if any proof was still needed, why Greg is the best analyst out there).   An empowered Republican Party is offering Obama a terrible way out- become more militant, less "squishy" about food and water, and you can have some victories.  Of course, accepting this option means losing in Yemen, and that is not an option.

It is a little strange that those who proclaim the loudest and proudest that America is the greatest- maybe the only- force for for goodness and decency in the world recoil when that generosity is divorced from the barrel of a gun.  But I should be too old to be stunned by intellectual incoherence.  Gibberish is the new reason.

Strangely, a modicum of sanity might come from the Tea Party branch, at least those who have thought through their philosophy beyond the flag-pin stage.  Rand Paul, for instance, is basically opposed to foreign adventurism, and he is a star.  If he can stick to his guns and get his voice out, there might be less pressure to bomb anyone we want.  Granted, Paul is also against non-military aid, but I will take a tiny relief of pressure from where I can get it.


In a brief post about how Rand Paul seems more in favor of earmarks than he did during the campaign, Jonathan Chait at TNR links to this Salon article about Paul seeming a bit more ideologically flexible in the foreign policy world (which itself is a link to a GQ profile by Jason Zengerle, formerly of TNR- thus completing the internet circle).   Paul tells AIPAC he is "more reasonable" than his father, and impress Bill Kristol and Dan Senor by meeting them in "learning mode".  So perhaps Paul isn't going to be in the semi-reasonable wing- or, rather, like nearly all politicians, he'll have to decide between his principles and his ambition.   It would be nice if the Republican Party had a prominent voice inside the party objecting to the "all war all the time" platform, if not from a strict security position than at least form an economic one. 

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