Some aphorisms for the bipartisan neocon establishment

All apologies to the style of Emil Cioran.
With the neocons as much in ascendancy under Trump as any other being made apparent by recent actions in Syria, some general observations:
When, ever, on an issue of strategy have these people ever been right? Aside from boosting contractor stock portfolios I mean. They have never been right, yet the horrifying thing is that I increasingly sense this is not intentional by most, but the result of true ideological faith. American Exceptionalism meets Jonestown and Waco. The last desperate gasp of a dying and discredited ideology. The death rattle of the neoliberal world view.
The fear of internal upheaval has shifted the neocon/neoliberal center (the true and most long term powerful enemy of strategists and critical thinkers) from the GOP to the DNC and the fifty disproportionately influential ‘Never Trump’ Republicans that exist in the universe that the Democrats are convinced hold the fate of the nation and whose seduction is the most pressing issue in politics today (for them). To fight this cancer, one cannot be partisan but rather entirely against both major parties. Bolton on the right, the Clintons in the center, Power on the left. If this foe is a bipartisan alliance than an alliance which is much *more* than simply bipartisan must rise to fight it. Horseshoe theory may be the most laughable and childish of liberal self-congratulatory ideas, but it may be time to consider some amount of coming together against the center on foreign policy, at least. Divisions that cannot be overcome domestically certainly can and will always exist, but so long as over-funded think tanks and media conglomerates set the discourse, temporary issue-specific alliances may bear fruit. This is the ultimate lesson of realism, after all.
The Democratic establishment knows chasing the GOP for a vanishing and ineffectual center of wine moms and dealership dads is easier than internal reform, as they are just as dependent on mega wealthy donors as their opposition and any reform threatens their coffers. Hence MSNBC becomes the Fox of last decade in war cheer-leading and misdirection. The more right the Dems can go, they think, the bigger the donor share. Therefore you will see no meaningful opposition to disastrous intervention from their power-brokers than the purely performative. Legal quibbles but no alternatives. In effect you have a party controlled by the old industries of gas, oil, and coal-and an opposition party controlled by the new industries of Silicon Valley, entertainment, and established charity. Both, however, are equally enthralled to Wall Street and defense contracting. It is therefore at those two targets, that the primary offensive must be directed.
The phrase ‘welfare queen’ dominated the hollow discourse of the euphoric 1990s, but to no people does this accusation ring more true than against the Pentagon and the private contractors that eat the fat from its haunches. And to no nation is this phrase more true than that of Israel. Even the wretched husk of Saudi Arabia, easily the most odious of American allies, pays its own way in a sense. Israel as welfare queen-now that is at least a memorable talking point.
Idealism, however, is not the solution. These problems call for a sober and realist pragmatism. To see an enemy clearly is not to rail at his morality but rather to respect his success and seek to one-up it and undo it in new and more clever ways. To learn from the parasitic infestation of neoconservatives first, in order to build up both the antibodies and the keys to their eventual extermination. Study their methods of media discourse. To understand them is to undo them. It is not in my interest, and I would argue neither in yours whoever you are, to replace them with something equally detached from reality-but rather to replace them with something objectively better in a measurable cost/benefit calculation. A return to the realism of history as managed chaos and not teleology. The end of history (of humanity) will not come about due to consensus or transcendence but through the natural and inevitable extinction of the species. Until that point, however, we could at least try to reduce the net amount of misery within achievable parameters. This would, of course, require the maturity to acknowledge that these parameters would be both variable and potentially hostile to competition. There may be many different solutions going their own way rather than one.

The Rise of the Woke Warrior Wymynne

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A proper meritocracy should eliminate ethnic, sectarian, and gender discrimination in order to increase the mobility of its talent pool. In an anarchic inter-state system it should be obvious that states that follow such a reasoning will probably have a more intellectually robust policy class capable of more challenging internal discussions and thus more creative policies than its competition. This is a strong argument based not on morality but on strategic performance for the utility of what could be deemed an ‘intersectional’ approach to governing. One which I would support and could think of numerous examples in history where inclusivity in the policy classes paid real dividends. Amy Chua-of all people-even wrote a historically simplistic, if single-issue-convincing, book about this very subject called ‘Day of Empire’.

But acknowledging this should not make us blind to the usage of such policies in service of propaganda or an establishment which opens some doors while shutting others. Such is increasingly the case with the Woke Warrior Woman.

The Woke Warrior Women, or Wymynne if one is feeling extra spicy, are effectively the same lanyarded defense-nerds that have existed among the bipartisan consensus guys in American foreign policy circles. Support for military expansion and interventionism is always a net good, opposition to it is always at least misguided. American Exceptionalism is assumed to be at least somewhat true, and the agency or reasoning of foreign actors is often viewed on a scale of morality play vis-a-vis American norms and objectives. But now these types are more strongly identified as Democrats with solidly progressive chops on domestic (social) issues. Newly ‘radicalized’ by Trump and flush with the relative successes of the Obama years (fittingly, an administration that only truly succeeded on domestic social policy and reverted to Bushism on everything else), the WWW (W3?)’s believe themselves to be edgy and successful boundary pushers.

The actual effect of what they are largely doing in the present context, however, is to simply increase the size of the tent for the policies that are long since established as unchangeable and establishment-defended without actually changing any of those policies themselves. In many ways this is the cultural signifier for how the Democratic Party mainstream continues to drift to the neoconservative right. It is, in its own internal logic, a rational response in a way. If the international liberal order is no longer and inevitable end-destination of a humanity moving clearly on a linear and progressive path than perhaps this sinking ship can only be righted by taking it into battle and sinking all the other ships first. In this particular way the neocons were actually smarter than the traditional liberals-at least they recognized that their pie in the sky teleology was not reachable without hard power behind it.

Of course, rather than learn the lesson that perhaps the view of history as a universal and progressive process leading to a unified conclusion is far more faith than science (or even really humanities), it becomes easier for such people not to intellectually challenge themselves but rather just advocate more strident methods to keep their illusions going. The slipping of mainstream liberalism into neoconservative territory as reflected by the dominant wing of the Democratic Party is really a natural result of this type of flailing. They have to maintain that Iraq was bad-it is now entrenched as a partisan issue-but Syria and Libya were different because…reasons. Never mind both states were significantly better governed than Iraq ever was under Saddam or that Syria’s sectarian divisions are even more convoluted and dangerous than that of Iraq. Here come the Samantha Powers, and they know what is best! They aren’t some knuckledragging brutes, and so they can bring a different perspective!

Except that so far, they really don’t. Women, like men, are only allowed into the Beltway Consensus Club’s highest echelons if they tow that very consensus. In building a new government from scratch this may be necessary, but in an old and well established institution this can often be intellectual death. If growing the tent means the same ideological uniformity, then the tent’s actual potential for adaptability and new thinking is utterly squandered.

Madeline Albright’s enforcement of the sanctions regime on Iraq in the 90s was every bit as brutal in its effect and lack of results as the actual invasion was. Samantha Power’s complicity in aiding the Saudi intervention in Yemen is every bit of the policies she once criticized others for doing, and Gina Haspel’s running of an ‘enhanced interrogation’ black site was on the same level of support for bad policy that the once derided John Yoo used to give.  Maybe Yoo wishes he once could have played the woman card. It certainly will be used by much of the media and political classes to dismiss criticism of Trump’s new appointee to head the CIA.

What most of this, of course, is that the defense establishment has smelled the winds of change. They tried to hold the line on being somewhat conservative until the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell showed them that, given shifting norms and the youthful demographic they seek to recruit, not only could they survive by adopting social liberalism but also that they could *thrive* with it.

This is not an unwise choice. The military was in fact throwing away endless amounts of talent before. It is perfectly reasonable for them to adopt this line as they move into a world where young people with socially reactionary views on gender and sexuality become smaller and smaller…But make no mistake, the goals of this type of marketing is just as much about getting on the good graces of the public and commentariat classes as it is expanding the recruit pool. If people nod their heads in agreement at the ‘wokeness’ (performative or otherwise) in the Pentagon or among defense contractors, they might be more willing to overlook the blatant financial malfeasance that goes on in such places, the mercenary like costliness of many private allied organizations, and the normalization of endless and unnecessary warfare.

If much of the establishment continued to hold on to the socially conservative front, it might be overextended when it also tried to hold on to its more bottom line fiscal and foreign policy fronts. You can only save so many dinosaurs at one time, and social issues represent by far the least amount of sacrifice for the old guard to dispense with. The military only looks better in the public sphere when ViceVox can write up an article about how Totally Tubular it is that These Women Drone Pilots are Spreading Wokeness over the Skies of Yemen!

One the other hand, though, at least their messaging has improved from the old ‘join the marines and slay green screen dragons’ days:

 

Thanks, Obama, for Avoiding the History We Almost Had

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So the Obama era is almost totally over. I don’t really want to get into domestic politics as I have been doing that enough recently on this blog due to the upset election and which is contrary to its main purpose-but it should also be obvious from past entries that I have not always seen eye to eye with this administration on foreign affairs. If the Democratic Party is to have any future, however, either in domestic or foreign affairs, it is my sincere hope that it embraces the wing of Tulsi Gabbard and rejects that of Corey Booker and the Clintons.

So why, talking about a party that had all the signs of winning big in 2016 and lost to a meme candidate, am I saying ‘Thanks, Obama?’ on my foreign policy focused blog? Let me present you with a horrifying alternate history scenario that should chill your spine no matter what your politics looks like:

Hillary Clinton or John McCain wins the presidency in 2008. 3 years later, the Arab Spring Happens and ‘it’s 3AM in Tehran, who do you want picking up the phone?’

The neocon establishment is fully entrenched and unchecked, US military interventions in all affected countries including ground troops ensue. This further increases the horror and refugee crisis, spilling over the chaos into yet more countries. An entire region of military command is effectively immersed in something that makes Vietnam look like a playground fight.The U.S. is so weakened and possibly working in tandem with Islamists to pick up the on-the-ground slack that other powers jump in, backing more sustainable sides and gravely increasing the likelihood of great power conflict even beyond US-Russia rivalry in Syria today. Soon the fighting spreads south of the Sahara, overwhelming countries with poor counter-insurgency infrastructure.

To be a bit less serious:

‘Day 86 of the Siege of Nouakchot and while 250,000 US troops remain trapped amidst a sea of the rapidly growing Boko Haram Army, Islamist forces continue to advance northwards further east, pledging to exterminate all Copts and other minorities. Secretary of State, Michele Flournoy said ‘the march of democracy is full of broken eggs to make a Freedom Omelette. We will direct forces eastward and encourage the moderate opposition while we hold off the radicals in Mauritania.’

‘We will kill all infidel scum’ said obstensive U.S. ally Abdhul Al-Jihadi, ‘god willing they will all die by the blade like pigs.’

‘Don’t worry,’ added Flournoy, ‘They will calm down once they have an election.”

That’s why I say ‘Thanks, Obama.’

Foreign Policy in the Present Election Cycle

Domestic Politics? In *this* blog? It’s more likely than you think.

Of course, I really mean to discuss how American domestic politics impacts foreign policy. So it still fits the theme.

You would think that in a highly competitive primary season with both parties selecting from pools of candidates that there would be more interesting discussions on foreign policy in the United States. While it was true that Rand Paul was the torch bearer of sanity in foreign policy (if little else) earlier on, he has already become history. Donald Trump, who is grotesque and hilarious in equal measures, has at least forced a reckoning on Dubya’s legacy long delayed by the GOP-even if he has no coherent ideas of his own.

The candidates both party establishments clearly want to win are, unsurprisingly, the two most hawkish of hawks. Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio are basically indistinguishable from each other on big picture foreign affairs. American Exceptionalism, delusions of grandeur, and a blind faith in military solutions when regarding small weaker nations ruled in ways contrary to American values. They both have track records of opinions which would meet the approval of Cheney and Kristol alike.

The Democratic primary is just as much wild card vs reckoning. No one actually knows what Bernie Sanders holds as views on foreign policy, if any are coherent at all. But then a very interesting thing happened…Tulsi Gabbard resigned her post as DNC Vice Chair to endorse him.

I am definitely not yet sold on the Sanders bandwagon, nor do I think endorsements matter as much as people think they do, but I cannot contain my joy at the following two things:
1. I remain convinced that Gabbard is going places. I have mentioned her previously on this blog as one of the rare realists left in congress. We have had decades of endless and naively conducted war with little grand strategic perspective. With a Sanders nomination unlikely she took a long term calculation to back him specifically because of foreign policy issues and to build her future reputation as the foreign policy realist (who is not Rand Paul). Its her career trajectory that most fascinates me rather than his. And if he does win, she will no doubt get an interesting cabinet post.
2. I am so thankful after decades of evidence that the Clintons are basically Dick Cheney Lite that someone is making a major point of finally calling them out for it. The media never had the spine to do this. It still doesn’t. They look at the quantity of titles on her resume without looking to see the quality and results of what they describe.
There is something beautifully Roveian (in the best ways) about destroying a foe’s strength. Going after Clinton on foreign policy is like a factual and justifiable version of swift boating, you sink the opposition’s main selling point-and this time you actually do it by telling the verifiable truth. Obviously Gabbard can do this, and Sanders cannot as he has no actually articulated foreign policy views or coherent record.
Maybe, just maybe, we can have a real discussion about foreign policy in this election season…for once. After all, this is hardly an issue that primarily affects Americans. One could say in fact it primarily affects people who are not Americans. That is why non-Americans tend to know more about American foreign policy than Americans do, by and large.
Plus, while you might think a trickster themed blog does revel in the chaos-or shadenfreude- caused by Trumps’ run, I would counter that Trump is just a shuckster insider who knows how to play the system created by decades of toxic (primarily conservative) social divide and rule politics. A quite typical figure actually in the mold of William Jennings Bryan, Vladimir Putin, or Marine le Pen. Whereas the first Hindu in congress (potentially, hopefully?) running with in some capacity a Jewish candidate against a bombardment of media hostility and entrenched interests is a much more interesting upset to the system. Trump after all hardly threatens any media oligarch tax brackets and thus no doubt they could come to accommodate him.
Even if the Sanders ticket goes down in defeat, as is probable, its run will have shaken things up-specifically in the realm least expected of it, that of foreign policy.
Keep your eyes on Gabbard. She is going places.