Poulos Smacks Sowell Down

This is good, good stuff.  Read it all–some good comments as well, so check those out.  JP offers a primer on how conservatives can and should legitimately criticize Obama.  [Hint the Thomas Sowell way is how not to do it].  I’ll add that this isn’t the first time Sowell has been high on something when discussing Obama.  (See here).

Sowell’s quotation is embedded in this op-ed by Peter Robinson for Forbes. In Sowell’s formulation political philosophy fall into two camps:

Sowell calls one worldview the “constrained vision.” It sees human nature as flawed or fallen, seeking to make the best of the possibilities that exist within that constraint. The competing worldview, which Sowell terms the “unconstrained vision,” instead sees human nature as capable of continual improvement.

Now if you are going to frame it this way, then the constrained vision is of course conservatism and the unconstrained liberal or progressive. Robinson/Sowell argues that Obama across the board is the unconstrained and McCain the constrained. [Obviously Sowell is a conservative so in his formulation unconstrained is a very bad thing.  One could as a progressive I suppose agree with that formulation without the negative interpretation of unconstrained attached.]

Now certainly on domestic policy, Obama is a traditional liberal-progressive.  So unconstrained in many regards.

But on foreign policy of course it’s actually the reverse with Obama the more constrained one relative to McCain.  Remember the response to Russia-Georgia anyone?  Ask yourself who seemed more constrained in that scenario?  Obama’s realism with regard to Iraq versus McCain’s unending talk about “victory”, with a view of the unconstrained capacity of the US military to simply dictate reality across the world, not just militarily but politically.

On foreign policy, Obama is the return of the post WWII bipartisan consensus.  Liberal Internationalist -Interventionst.  A more or less return to Clinton & George HW Bush–maybe with a new twist or two but basically in that category.  The Powell endorsement, Obama’s closeness with Lugar and Hagel, even Bob Gates, plus of course Biden as his VP–all that adds up to well within the establishment.  McCain is a return to the early years of Bush II and arguably much more radical one at that.

For someone like Daniel L., Obama’s consensus view is very problematic.  For me it’s partially problematic (not as problematic as it is for Daniel). But compared to McCain’s neocon outlook, I’ll take the established consensus view thank you very much.  The latter is not nearly as damaging in my book as the former.  The solutions offered by neoconservatism to the problems of the consensus view are far worse (imo) than the problems themselves.

McCain’s entire theory of rolling back rogue states (hear the Dulles echoes?) and democratizing the world through a League is not exactly a constrained vision of international policy, whatever else it is.

The Liberal Internationalist (flavored with Realism) schools of foreign policy more recognize the constrained fallen nature of human international political reality.  Obama has his own unconstrained elements in his FP–though even he is coming around to the notion of negotiating with the Taliban–but compared to McCain, it ain’t even close.

The way Sowell tries to fudge that McCain’s actual foreign policy undercuts his whole neat argument about how to fit the two candidates into the two different philosophies he has outlined, is by saying that Obama will stand around and/or want to have tea chats with bad guys as the evil doers give nukes to terrorists.  No I’m not kidding, read it, and read James’ evisceration of that point as well.

China Hand on Afghanistan Policy Change

One of my favorite bloggers with a long, detailed, and brilliant piece that is a must read.

The context:

The United States and NATO can’t be driven from Afghanistan militarily. Nor, however, can the Taliban be crushed in the foreseeable future.


The US is going to be in Afghanistan for years to come.  The only thing that’s going to change in Afghanistan is the objectives.

General Petraeus as new head of CentCom along with Robert Gates (will he or won’t he stay on as SecDef under Prez Obama?) are working on major reviews of all strategy from Iraq & Iran to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The central core of which will be a call to begin negotiations with the Taliban.  Obama has actually had a quite hawkish hardline stance on the Taliban, so this will get interesting.  The idea will be to buy off and separate as many of the elements of the insurgency as possible, and see if possible to break the Taliban from al-Qaeda.

There are a couple of problems with this theory however as I see it. One, the Mullah Omar wing of the Taliban will never sell out bin Laden.   If they wouldn’t before the war, why now?  They are neo-fundamentalists in Olivier Roy’s terminology meaning they are interested in creating Islamic society not an Islamic state (they were very uninterested in actual governance when in power in the 90s).

Now the newer Taliban or Pashto insurgent groups in the south of Afghanistan can be dealt with it seems to me and realize they will have to get along with the Afghan Army.  But they will be seeking a withdrawal of all foreign troops in order to facilitate a stand down.  Plus, they have no real connection with al-Qaeda who is off in Waziristan.

Petraeus, as China Hand remind us, is a genius of the media age and has at times shown a unwillingness to bend to civilian rule.  The current batch of leaks to US media and from European allies is undoubtedly not accidental.

Ultimately the Taliban do not pose a threat to the domestic security of NATO countries nor to the international order.  They could become a FARC-like naro-terrorist group that will wreak havoc locally and/or a return to a brutal dictatorship but how is that different than say Burma?

How this all breaks down in real time:

It appears that the key job before General Petraeus will be to co-opt the regional impetus toward a negotiated settlement, prevent Saudi Arabia from mid-wifing a power-sharing arrangement favorable to the Taliban, assert American control and direction over the process to assure America’s continued presence at the center of Afghan’s security equation, and spike the loose cannons that threaten his plan.

And of course no discussion of Afghanistan without the broader regional question of which there as yet seems to be no consensus:

Even if NATO, the central Afghan authority, and the Afghan Taliban get on the same page, there is still the question of how much collateral damage to tolerate—or provoke—in Pakistan.

In Pakistan, the same as Afghanistan. The Taliban, what we are calling the Taliban, is actually a series of global guerrilla groups–cellular, fragmented, networked, with fluid membership.  Some attack traditional tribal leaders, some don’t.  Some play by the old tribal customs, some are increasingly bucking them.  So a peace deal can definitely be made with some no doubt, but there is no one person–not even Mullah Omar–who has control over the movement and therefore can sign some treaty and end the conflict of all these various groups.  Particularly when so many fund their operations through crime (drug trade, kidnappings, smuggling, etc.).

What this still leaves open as a question that dare not speak its name in US foreign policy discussion is: how much of a threat really is al-Qaeda?  The Pakistanis don’t see the Pakistani Taliban as an existential threat.  There really is no proof that the Pakistani Taliban want to take over the government.  They basically want to be left alone to create their own idealized Islamic society in Waziristan.

The problem then is the continued hospitality/safe haven given AQ and its leadership in the Pakistani FATA region.  But why would they gain from selling out AQ?  What do they have to fear except some predator drones really at the end of the day?

No one will have this discussion it seems to me, but we need to ask how effective is all of this? How worth it is this attempt to get AQ? I’m not disrespecting the enormity of 3,000 civilian casualties inside the US, but AQ is predicated on more and more spectacular attacks and luring the US into Muslim countries around the world (by rasing the flag of AQ as bin Laden said–often as a decoy mind you)  and bleeding the  US dry.

Their weakness is the need for spectacular attacks and how difficult it is to pull off one always greater than the last one.  Particularly post September 11th.  But Obama is a Democrat and won’t be able to face any possible criticism of weakness, so he is going to charge in there and we’ll continue to muddy along I suppose for some time to come.