President Obama’s order for air strikes that are to last “several months” against the northern and eastern edges of the Islamic State In the Levant (ISIL) is a small part of a political effort to promote a “more inclusive” Iraqi government in Baghdad. This undercuts the missions that American air power could accomplish in short order – namely strengthening Kurdistan, America’s only ally in the region beside Israel, and saving the masses of refugees now fleeing ISIL. Nor is it part of any strategy for dealing with ISIL.
Recently, President Obama protested to Vladimir Putin that Russia had been violating the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces in Europe treaty (INF) for the last six years by testing precisely the kind of missile that the treaty prohibits. That protest, as reported by the New York Times, is a textbook lesson in how a government earns the contempt of others.
Proper as it is to dismiss President Obama’s daring his opponents to impeach him as childish posturing for his political base – secure as he is that the Senate’s Democratic majority would prevent his conviction regardless of any Constitutional evidence brought against him – nevertheless we must note that Obama risks disaster, as do children who play with matches in the presence of gasoline. His flaunting of impeachment sets up the alternative between the unfettered power of any president supported by a Senate majority and, on the other hand, the unfettered power of any Congressional majority coherent enough to remove presidents politically unpalatable to it.
Either way, Obama is opening the door to the partisan erasure of the distinction between executive and legislative power.
Angelo Codevilla comes to Liberty Law Talk to discuss his latest book To Make and Keep Peace Among Ourselves and with All Nations. Our conversation focuses on Codevilla’s main argument that American statesmen increasingly fail to understand the nature and purpose of statecraft: the achievement of peace. So what does it mean to achieve America’s peace? To do so, Codevilla insists, requires concrete evaluation of the means and ends necessary to protect American interests. This requires particular judgments about power, interests, and the practial reality we are confronted with. Our practice, for well nigh a century, has been to speak in glittering generalities about America’s role in the world as a force for democratic and humanitarian progress, refusing to recognize the unwieldy consequences that result from applying abstract ideals in a Hobbesian environment. The refusal to be frank about how military victory must be used to achieve a peace on American terms not only produces unending conflicts with no clear idea of victory, but also leads to deep reverberations in domestic politics as coalitions form around perceived patriotic and traitorous courses of action. Post 9/11 politics, anyone?
We also explore what Codevilla perceives as the failures of our major schools of foreign policy. The neoconservative believes that an aggressive America must give a shove to the forces of global democratic progress, while the internationalist has a similar end in view but wants to secure it by reducing American power in the world, harnessing and moralizing our power and interests through an array of multilateral institutions and treaties. In a different vein, the realist assumes that all nations have the same kinds of interests and pursue the same goals regardless of the ideological cast of regimes and governments. All three approaches have been tried repeatedly, but, Codevilla argues, America’s interests have not been secured. Even though our nation wins its battles and wars, we lose our peace. Where then to look for wisdom in the practice of successful statecraft? That is where the conversation begins.
The arguments by which the Obama administration is countering lawsuits that seek to limit Obamacare subsidies to participants in “exchanges” established by states—a limit that is specified in the Obamacare law itself—have raised the outcome’s stakes. Administration officials argue that the plain, unmistakable, uncontested language of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is less important than what they want the law to mean, and that hewing to its words would deprive millions of people of the subsidies that the administration had granted them regardless of those words. Therefore the courts should enforce what the administration wants rather than what the law says.
Images of Hamas’s artillery rockets being intercepted by Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile defense system naturally lead Americans to wonder why, if missiles were fired at our homes, we wouldn’t go to the trouble of stopping them in mid-flight as the Israelis do. The answer is that our bipartisan ruling class decided half a century ago that even trying to protect America against all but token missile attacks would be a hostile act toward Russia and China.
As Hamas empties its current stock of artillery rockets (some 10,000) from Gaza onto Tel Aviv and southern Israel while its allies in Lebanon launch similar projectiles into Galilee, and as half of Israel’s population rushes in and out of shelters, no one can forget that the Arab world (minus Egypt and Jordan) is at war with Israel in fact as well as formally. Nor does the Arab world leave doubt about its war aim: to destroy the Jewish state. But as the Israeli air force strikes gradually at the rockets’ launch sites and storage areas and picks away at some of Hamas’ mid-level leaders, as some 40,000 army reservists prepare for a possible invasion of Gaza, the aims of Israel’s military operations are by no means clear. It is clear, however that these operations do not amount to war. That is because, obviously, they do not aim at winning peace for Israel.
The U.S. government, along with mainstream commentators Left and Right, debate how to meet what they deem to be the growing threat to America posed by the Sunni fighters who last month declared themselves to be “the Islamic State” and their leader, one Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, as the caliph—secular and religious leader—of all Muslims. This reaction mirrors the group’s ignorant evaluation of its own importance. In fact, jumping the gun on the caliphate is likely to diminish its standing within the Muslim world, never mind vis a vis the West.
The Republican establishment, as it works with Democrats to overcome challenges from GOP and independent voters dissatisfied with the course of events in America, confirms that it is part of the ruling class responsible for those events, and that it intends to push America further along that course. By its campaign for Senator Thad Cochran in Mississippi’s senatorial primary, the GOP establishment removed all doubt about this.
Important as it is to keep in mind that sectarian socio-religious hate is what drives the vast bulk of the people engaged in today’s Muslim-world war, understanding that war requires taking into account those who provide the contending forces’ military organization. On all sides, this has less to do with religion than with secular considerations, including by highly placed atheists, of how to promote their own power.