Tone and Tactics

We stacked our peace signs and unwrapped our outer clothing in the steam-filled second story of Mayas Taquería at S.W. 10th & Morrison after dark had fallen and the marching was over, Portland Peaceful Response Coalition‘s weekly anti-war witness at Pioneer Courthouse Square on Black Friday [29 November] of 2013, the occasion of the illumination of what might be called the Shopping Tree three years to the day after the arrest by the Joint Terrorism Task Force of the so-called Pioneer Square Bomber.  Dan Handelman, director for Peace and Justice Works both of Portland Copwatch and of Iraq Affinity Group, the first of which was a longtime part of the PPR Coalition, wanted to sit down and talk with Herschel Soles, Melvin Bell, and Rob Ranta of PPRC, as well as with Your Intrepid Reporter, a frequent participant in the Pioneer Courthouse Square Friday Night anti-war witness since 2008.

Seeing me scribbling in my thick notebook, Dan commented that he’d prefer not to have the session publicized, and I responded that my notes and blog would report the fact that the meeting took place — to which he did not object.

But let me quote only myself.  When Dan asked the veteran activists present what they thought the significance was of the negotiations with and about Iran, I answered that it was a one-off.  It was unusual that the US Secretary of State should have answered a question by a London reporter, and that on that basis the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, should have suggested negotiations . . .

My colleagues and comrades interrupted me at this point.  Not Syria, Dan Handelman and the others responded,  —  Iran.

How could the second very public movement toward negotiations by the United States be a one-off?  My answer was quite wrong, even self-contradictory.

The very next (well, it was awhile ago, and I am not going to bother checking whether it was one day or two) day I sent in an email to Dan an ‘improved’ answer, that I was gratified by the negotiations with Iran but considered US foreign policy still to be based on the use or threat of use of force.

Harvard professor Stephen M. Walt expresses that thought better than I, and Your Intrepid Reporter will make use of a few quotations from his 12 December 2013 post to put the situation crisply and clearly; he agrees with the Washington Post associate editor and columnist David Ignatius and enlarges upon that dyed-in-the-wool conservative’s view.

Ignatius is surely correct that there has been remarkably little imaginative thinking about America’s role in the world and a dearth of serious debate about the fundamentals of U.S. grand strategy. This situation is especially surprising because there were two obvious moments when a serious rethinking of U.S. grand strategy should have occurred but didn’t.

There’s a consensus all right, in US foreign policy that dates from shortly after World War II; that’s the reason why former Secretary of State for Harry Truman, Dean Acheson, entitled his memoirs Present at the Creation — he was present at the creation of the American Empire, constructed in an across-the-board consensus that we want an empire, are gratified by the management of an empire, and are willing to pay, in money and blood, to maintain it.  No one objected strenuously when, in clear violation of the US Constitution, Truman went to war in Korea without Congressional approval.  That is the evidence, in my opinion decisive, of a consensus among US political elites in favor of a grasp for world hegemony.

But this dearth, this utter absence, of serious debate about US ‘grand strategy’ — which under the circumstances is code-word for “Do We Maintain the Empire?” — is the more surprising, says the centrist professor, because two recent occasions have come and gone without that debate.

The collapse of the Soviet Union marked a fundamental shift in the global balance of power every bit as significant as the emergence of bipolarity at the end of World War II. The disappearance of America’s main rival should have sparked an intense reassessment of America’s global posture: In the absence of a peer competitor, was it necessary or wise for the United States to spend a substantially greater fraction of its national wealth on defense than its many wealthy allies were, to deploy powerful military forces around the world, and to take on increased security burdens in several areas?

There was no such debate among the dominant elites in 1989-1991 then, just as there had been very little in 1950, because, as Stephen M. Walt recalls, it was assumed on all hands that the Empire was to be not only maintained but even extended.

America’s European and Asian allies were seriously concerned that the United States might seek to maximize its “peace dividend” and reduce its global commitments, but this possibility barely registered back in Washington. Instead, most of the discussion revolved around how far the post-Cold War Pax Americana should be extended, and no prominent foreign-policy officials proposed reducing America’s global role by even a modest amount. To be sure, a handful of academics and policy wonks called for significant retrenchment during the Clinton years, but their views attracted little attention inside the Beltway and had zero impact on U.S. policy. [emphasis added — MM]

Triumphalism triumphed, you might say, on that occasion.  Because we did not invade Russia, occupy Moscow, and reduce the Kremlin to rubble, we could not afford, as we had after Hitler and Hirohito, to be magnanimous towards our enemies; on the contrary, we looked to impose ourselves even more.  And this time, not with the Voice of America, but with the US Air Force.

Walt continues.  The second occasion calling for a serious rethinking also passed without any variation in the Imperial Mission — my paraphrase: here are his exact words.

One might also have expected a serious debate on U.S. grand strategy in the wake of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the 2008 financial crisis. These events exposed the folly of some earlier decisions and underscored the limits of U.S. power, and together they helped elect Barack Obama, who at least sounded like he wanted to do things differently. Yet the 2008 election proved to be a turning point where policy did not turn very much: The tone and tactics of U.S. foreign policy shifted in certain ways, but the core principles remained unchanged and for the most part unquestioned.

“The tone and tactics of US foreign policy shifted in certain ways, but the core principles remained unchanged and for the most part unquestioned.”  That is the assessment I make of the Iran negotiations.

Only when negotiations are undertaken in good faith, when nuclear armaments are seriously restricted both among the US and its clients (such as, for example, the State of Israel), when we do not constantly (as we did in the person of both our Secretary of State and our Secretary of Defense, just as soon as we sat down with Iran) threaten our adversaries with bombs and missiles, will the United States ever cease to be a rogue state, the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, to quote a late American saint.

About M. Meo

Worked as translator, museum technician, truck lumper, lecture demonstrator, teacher (of English as a Second Language, science, math). Married for 25 years, 2 boys aged 18 & 16 (both on the Grant cross-country team). A couple of scholarly publications in the history of science. Two years in federal penitentiary, 1970/71, for refusing the draft.
This entry was posted in Economics, Empire, Friendship, Global, Iran, Israel, U.S. Constitution, Uncategorized, War and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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