Torture report highlights consequences of permanent war | Andrew Bacevich

How did this happen? To blame a particular president, a particular administration, or a particular agency simply will not do. The abuses described in the report prepared by the Senate Committee on Intelligence did not come out of nowhere. Rather than new, they merely represent variations on an existing theme.

Since at least 1940, when serious preparations for entry into World War II began, the United States has been more or less continually engaged in actual war or in semi-war, intensively girding itself for the next active engagement, assumed to lie just around the corner. The imperatives of national security, always said to be in peril, have taken precedence over all other considerations. In effect, war and the preparation for war have become perpetual. [ . . . ]

One consequence of our engagement in permanent war has been to induce massive distortions, affecting [the] apparatus of government, the nation, and the relationship between the two. The size, scope, and prerogatives accorded to the so-called intelligence community — along with the abuses detailed in the Senate report — provide only one example of the result. But so too is the popular deference accorded to those who claim to know exactly what national security requires, even as they evade responsibility for the last disaster to which expert advice gave rise.

via Torture report highlights consequences of permanent war – Opinion – The Boston Globe

(h/t FB Ali)

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‘The Collapse of Order in the Middle East’ | Ambassador Chas Freeman

The friend (FB Ali) who pointed me to this recent talk by Chas Freeman described it as “the best analysis I have read of the problems of the ME, US policy, and what the future likely holds. It is superb.”

Amen. The hardest part was choosing which of my twelve lengthy highlights was most likely to persuade you to read the whole thing.

The need for restraint extends to refraining from expansive rhetoric about our values or attempting to compel others to conform to them. In practice, we have insisted on democratization only in countries we have invaded or that were otherwise falling apart, as Egypt was during the first of the two “non coups” it suffered. When elections have yielded governments whose policies we oppose, we have not hesitated to conspire with their opponents to overthrow them. But the results of our efforts to coerce political change in the Middle East are not just failure but catastrophic failure. Our policies have nowhere produced democracy. They have instead contrived the destabilization of societies, the kindling of religious warfare, and the installation of dictatorships contemptuous of the rights of religious and ethnic minorities.

Americans used to believe that we could best lead by example. We and those in the Middle East seeking nonviolent change would all be better off if America returned to that tradition and foreswore ideologically motivated intervention.  Despite our unparalleled ability to use force against foreigners, the best way to inspire them to emulate us remains showing them that we have our act together. At the moment, we do not.

Every other attempted analysis of these matters has seemed to me to suffer from various failings, whether of perception or in the proposed solution. Continue reading

Economic Advantages of an Independent Scotland

Would they agree on the right things? A generous welfare state and economic success aren’t incompatible for small nations — there are several examples of this just across the North Sea from Scotland. But since a stretch of tough economic times in the early 1990s, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland have combined their generosity with remarkable efficiency and economic savvy (Norway, with its vast oil riches, hasn’t had to make quite as many hard choices). They and other successful small states tend to balance their budgets, export more than they import, and invest heavily and smartly in infrastructure and R&D. As Skilling tells it, they have designed their economies to be globally competitive.“

Being a small country offers a lot of in-principle upside, brings with it significant risks, and is what you make it — but it’s only for serious countries,” Skilling replied when I emailed him about Scotland.

So is Scotland serious? Skilling thinks it is, but the leaders of the “Yes” movement don’t seem to be quite there yet.

via The Economic Advantages of an Independent Scotland – Harvard Business Review.

Update (13.09.14):

I just read The Economist article linked to in this piece. It’s blackly negative about the prospects for an independent Scotland but if you do get to it, make sure you also read the comments thread. It’s far, far more interesting.

Noninterventionism | The American Conservative

Americans have grown understandably weary of foreign entanglements over the last 12 years of open-ended warfare, and they are now more receptive to a noninterventionist message than they have been in decades. According to a recent Pew survey, 52 percent of Americans now prefer that the U.S. “mind its own business in international affairs,” which represents the most support for a restrained and modest foreign policy in the last 50 years. That presents a challenge and an opportunity for noninterventionists to articulate a coherent and positive case for what a foreign policy of peace and prudence would mean in practice. As useful and necessary as critiquing dangerous ideas may be, noninterventionism will remain a marginal, dissenting position in policymaking unless its advocates explain in detail how their alternative foreign policy would be conducted.

via Noninterventionism: A Primer | The American Conservative.

Putin must be called to account just like Obama | Snowden

In fact, Putin’s response was remarkably similar to Barack Obama’s initial, sweeping denials of the scope of the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs, before that position was later shown to be both untrue and indefensible.

So why all the criticism? I expected that some would object to my participation in an annual forum that is largely comprised of softball questions to a leader unaccustomed to being challenged. But to me, the rare opportunity to lift a taboo on discussion of state surveillance before an audience that primarily views state media outweighed that risk. Moreover, I hoped that Putin’s answer – whatever it was – would provide opportunities for serious journalists and civil society to push the discussion further.

via Vladimir Putin must be called to account on surveillance just like Obama | theguardian.com

The Real Origins of Realpolitik | The National Interest

WHAT THEN, would Rochau have made of all this? Going back to his original definition, it appears that much of what masquerades as modern realpolitik has strayed quite far from the original essence of the term.

The first thing to note is that he was an enemy of lazy thinking. He would have been unimpressed with those versions of realism that resemble a knee-jerk reaction that responds to idealism with a roll of the eyes and retreats to its own set of tropes and doctrines.

Realpolitik does “not entail the renunciation of individual judgement and it requires least of all an uncritical kind of submission,” he wrote. It was more “appropriate to think of it as a mere measuring and weighing and calculating of facts that need to be processed politically.” Above all, it was not a strategy itself, but a way of thinking: an “enemy of . . . self-delusion” and “the misguided pride which characterises the human mind.”

What Rochau was attempting to articulate was not a philosophical position but a new way of understanding politics and the distribution of power. “Experience has shown that treating it along abstract-scientific lines, or on the basis of principles is hardly useful,” he wrote. One had to contend “with the historical product, accepting it as it is, with an eye for its strengths and weaknesses, and to remain otherwise unconcerned with its origins and the reasons for its particular characteristics.”

via The Real Origins of Realpolitik | The National Interest.

What would Maggie do now? | Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson can be a funny guy.

People aren’t remotely interested in how much tax these characters pay. That does nothing to palliate their primary offence, which is to be so stonkingly and in their view emetically rich.

Emetically, for those who (like me) haven’t run across it before, means vomit inducing.

He loves stirring things up, saying the unsayable, tweaking friends and opponents. By all accounts, he rides easily over his own stumbles and idiocies, an irrepressible, privileged, well educated, scruffy and oversized urchin.

Last week, he gave the Margaret Thatcher Lecture at the Centre for Policy Studies.

Somewhat careless comments about the uses of greed and the distribution of IQ in “our species” got most of the critical attention. Still, alongside this, and his boosterism for Britain, and his unabashed enthusiasm for free markets and meritocracy, worries about rising inequality dotted the speech. I rather liked his summary of the dilemma. Continue reading