Sarah Attempts Foreign Policy

Sarah Palin recently put up a facebook note that is being hailed in some quarters as her first brilliant foray into foreign policy.

Bullshit. It’s nothing but slogans and talking points nailed and glued together. Clever quips that mean nothing and Right Wing dog whiste blowing. She doesn’t say anything original or, indeed, accurate. This is what the GOP has come to: a speech that Rush Limbaugh wouldn’t open his show with on a bad day shows someone is a serious politico.

Going into this, I should say that while I think Sarah Palin is ignorant on the issues, I don’t think she’s stupid. I just don’t think she cares about the issues enough to look into the subtleties and trade-offs (see a point here about her criticism of fruit fly research). She speaks entirely in talk radio bullet points and has no interest in facts, details or philosophy. Indeed, the only time she had a chance to get involved in policy, as a governor, she quit to get a job spouting talking points on Fox News and the talk circuit.

This is all a game to her, a game of Celebrity. The goal is to get attention, adulation and money, not to actually solve problems or help the country. (Politicians who want to help their state don’t generally quit the second it gets tough). And this “brilliant” facebook note is a perfect example — a diatribe so thin even a third rate blogger can take it apart.

First, she talks about defense spending.

We have a federal government that is spending trillions, and that has nationalized whole sections of our economy: the auto industry, the insurance industry, health care, student loans, the list goes on – all of it at enormous cost to the tax payer. The cost of Obamacare alone is likely to exceed $2.5 trillion dollars.

I’ll let this one slide. The industries haven’t been nationalized in any sense that inhabitants of say, Venezuela, would recognize. In fact, they remain less nationalized than industries in most European countries.

Something has to be done urgently to stop the out of control Obama-Reid-Pelosi spending machine, and no government agency should be immune from budget scrutiny. We must make sure, however, that we do nothing to undermine the effectiveness of our military.

Shorter: balance the budget by cutting taxes and not cutting any spending except on “waste”, which should pony up maybe 1/20th of what we need to close the budget gap. If defense isn’t on the table, nothing is.

There isn’t a single progressive pet cause which they haven’t been willing to throw billions at. But when it comes to defense spending, all of a sudden they start preaching a message of “fiscal restraint.” Our Defense Secretary recently stated the “gusher” of defense spending was over and that it was time for the Department of Defense to tighten its belt. There’s a gusher of spending alright, but it’s not on defense. Did you know the US actually only ranks 25th worldwide on defense spending as a percentage of GDP? We spend three times more on entitlements and debt services than we do on defense.

Defense spending is now at a post-WW2 high and has almost doubled in the last 12 years. And the stat about 25th in percentage is misleading in the extreme. Countries than spend more than we do as a percentage are in the Arabian peninsula or in the middle of all-encompassing wars. Countries that have anywhere near our social spending or economic size are well below us. The US, in total, spends more on the military than the next 18 countries … combined. To act like the military is operating on a shoestring is absurd in the extreme.

As for three times more on entitlements … yes, its true that the defense budget occupies less than a quarter of our spending. But the GOP doesn’t want to cut entitlement either.

Finally, the entire idea that Obama is gutting defense spending is complete bunk. Obama’s cuts in defense spending are very tiny and are only cuts in the sense of slowing growth. Remember when referring to cuts in growth as “drastic budget cuts” was a liberal trick?

Now don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing wrong with preaching fiscal conservatism. I want the federal government to balance its budget right now! And not the Washington way – which is raising your taxes to pay for their irresponsible spending habits. I want it done the American way: by cutting spending, reducing the size of government, and letting people keep more of their hard-earned cash.

But don’t cut the largest budget items on the ledger.

Secretary Gates recently spoke about the future of the US Navy. He said we have to “ask whether the nation can really afford a Navy that relies on $3 to $6 billion destroyers, $7 billion submarines, and $11 billion carriers.” He went on to ask, “Do we really need… more strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one?”

Well, my answer is pretty simple: Yes, we can and, yes, we do because we must. Our Navy has global responsibilities. It patrols sea lanes and safeguards the freedoms of our allies – and ourselves. The Navy right now only has 286 ships, and that number may decrease. That will limit our options, extend tours for Navy personnel, lessen our ability to secure our allies and deter our adversaries. The Obama administration seems strangely unconcerned about this prospect.

First of all, we should be letting other countries take responsibility for their own damned sea lanes. Second of all, do we really need aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines to deal with piracy? Our navy could not be beaten by the rest of the world’s navies combined.

When President Obama came into office, he inherited a military that was winning in Iraq.

And still is, if you can define a sharply ethnically divided country as a victory. See here for what is likely to be the situation in Iraq.

He inherited loyal allies and strong alliances.

Nonsense. He inherited a situation where US popularity was low and our allies had pulled out of Afghanistan and Iraq.

So their basic foreign policy outlines should have been clear. Commit to the War on Terror. Commit to winning – not ending, but winning the war in Afghanistan. Commit to the fight against violent Islamic extremism wherever it finds sanctuary. Work with our allies. Be resolute with our adversaries. Promote liberty, not least because it enhances our security. Unfortunately, these basic principles seem to have been discarded by Washington.

I’ll address all this as she goes point by point.

His administration has banned the phrase “war on terror,” preferring instead politically correct nonsense like “overseas contingency operations.” His Homeland Security Secretary calls acts of terrorism “man-caused disasters.”

This is one of the dog whistles I simply don’t grasp. It’s also bunk. He has used the phrase terrorism multiple times in just the last few months.

His reckless plan to close Guantanamo (because there’s no place to go after it’s closed) faces bipartisan opposition now.

Mainly because of demagoguery, not because of principle.

The President’s new National Security Strategy does not even use the word “Islamic” when referring to violent extremism.

Literally true, but philosophically false. The document makes it clear what we are dealing with.

Does he think the ideology of those who seek to kill Americans is irrelevant? How can we seek to defeat an enemy if we don’t acknowledge what motivates them and what their ultimate goals are?

Because the stated goals of terrorists and the actual goals are not always the same. A large part of the problem we face is political figures using religion to fool dumb impressionable young men into doing their bidding. Remember all that stuff about winning hearts and minds? How are we supposed to do that without walking a political tightrope?

Additionally, this talking point is laughable from the pro-torture party. A key motivation for terrorism in Iraq was torture, according to General Petraeus. To even raise this point with them is to invite scorn and derision. That doesn’t make it any less true.

In Afghanistan, it is true that President Obama approved deploying additional forces to the conflict – most, but not all the troops requested by commanders on the ground. But it took months of indecision to get to that point, and it came at a very high price – a July 2011 date to begin withdrawal.

A date that is extremely flexible. And I rather prefer a President who tries to figure out what we’re doing before he commits tens of thousands of troops to the effort.

This date was arbitrary! It bears no relation to conditions on the ground. It sends all the wrong signals to our friends and to our enemies. We know our commanders on the ground are not comfortable with it.

Yes, it is arbitrary. Just like the date Bush set for getting out of Iraq.

Does the President really believe the Taliban and al Qaeda won’t be empowered by his naming of a starting date for withdrawal? They now believe they can beat him simply by outlasting us. What sort of effect does he think this will have on the morale of our troops – and of our allies?

Notice what is missing from this speech. A clear goal or a strategy for Afghanistan. Obama has been handed a difficult situation — a hopelessly bungled war that Bush pretty much ignored after 2003. Does Palin propose a solution? A strategy? An idea? No. She simply chucks eggs at someone who has the temerity to set goals for our presence there. And, as it happened, gave McChrystal a free hand to do as he saw fit.

It’s not the only area where the Obama administration has failed our allies. They escalated a minor zoning issue in Jerusalem into a major dispute with our most important ally in the Middle East, Israel.

A minor zoning issue? I’m guessing she’s referring to the settlements which are only the most fucking contentious issue in the entire region and which every President in the last twenty years has opposed.

(And here is Obama’s recent interview on Israeli TV.)

They treated the Israeli Prime Minister shabbily in Washington.

I suspect this is exaggerated. But even if it’s not, why is snubbing a foreign prime minister of more concern to Palin than Israel snubbing our sitting vice President? If any other country did such a thing — at least to a Republican — it would be an issue. But the GOP has so little respect for the office — and is so mindlessly devoted to supporting Israel in all things no matter what — that they would take another country’s side in a minor diplomatic tiff.

When a Turkish sponsored flotilla threatened to violate a legal Israeli blockade of Hamas-run Gaza, the Obama Administration was silent. When Israeli commandos were assaulted as they sought to prevent unmonitored cargoes from being delivered to Hamas terrorists, the Obama Administration sent signals it might allow a UN investigation into the matter – an investigation that would be sure to condemn our ally Israel and bemoan the plight of Hamas.

Palin is mis-representing the flotilla issue, talking about a version of events that only occurred in talk radio. Israel chose a confrontational approach when they could have disabled or blocked the ships. And their blockade of Gaza is on far more than weapons. You can side with Israel just fine. I do. But to portray them as the completely innocent victim here is ridiculous.

Also, Turkey is one of our few Islamic allies. Remember what she said about not alienating allies — like about ten seconds ago?

Loyal NATO allies in central Europe were undermined by the cancellation of a missile defense program with virtually no warning. At the same time, Russia and China are given preferential treatment, while remaining silent on their human rights violations.

I’m not happy with this move. But a missile defense targeted at Iran is still going. And every Administration has ignored Russia and China’s human rights record. We deal with them because they are big powers. For more Republican ignorance on the missile defense thing, check here.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration reaches out to some of the world’s worst regimes. They shake hands with dictators like Hugo Chavez, send letters to the Iranian mullahs and envoys to North Korea, ease sanctions on Cuba and talk about doing the same with Burma. That’s when they’re not on one of their worldwide apology tours.

Yes, ignoring Chavez was so effective. Ignoring him create a South American axis of socialist nimrods from Argentina to Honduras. (Strangely, she omits one of the biggest issues I had with Obama; his siding on the wrong side on the Honduras presidential dispute).

Sanctions on Cuba have really brought down Castro’s regime. Why he’ll fall any minute now. And previous President never dealt with North Korea at all? It’s not like they tested missiles when Bush was in power.

And I am fucking sick and tired of this “apology tour” nonsense. Here’s a quote from his Cairo speech:

Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words — within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum — “Out of many, one.”

Apology, my ass. Back to Palin:

In response to North Korea’s unprovoked sinking of a South Korean Navy ship, China warned us not to take part in military exercises with our ally.

And yet, we participated anyway. And condemned the attack.

Together with this enemy-centric foreign policy, we see a lessening of the long, bipartisan tradition of speaking out for human rights and democracy. The Secretary of State said she would not raise human rights with China because “we pretty much know what they are going to say.” Democracy promotion programs have been cut. Support for the brave Iranians protesting their government was not forthcoming because President Obama would rather try to cut a deal with their oppressors.

Pro-democracy programs have been cut? I thought you were against government spending? And as for “not supporting the protesters”, the worst thing we could possibly have done was to get involved in it and take sides. Making the protesters an American cause would have strengthened the Iranian government immeasurably.

We have a President, perhaps for the very first time since the founding of our republic, who doesn’t appear to believe that America is the greatest earthly force for good the world has ever known.

See the Cairo speech above.

When asked whether he believed in American exceptionalism, President Obama answered, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” Amazing. Amazing.

This is one of those Right Wing dog whistles I am just not hearing. They have made a big deal out of this line ever since it was uttered. Why? Is acknowledging British and Greek pride somehow demeaning to American pride?

Notice also that they always clip out the next line: “I’m enormously proud of my country and its role in history in the world”. But that doesn’t fit the meme that Obama Hates America.

I think this statement speaks volumes about his world view. He sees nothing unique in the American experience? Really? Our founding, and our founding mothers and fathers? Really? And our history over the past two and half centuries?

No, not really. Only in your fetid imagination. “I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.” – Barack Obama.

President Obama actually seems reluctant to even embrace American power. Earlier this year when he was asked about his faltering Middle East peace process, he said “whether we like it or not, we remain a dominant military superpower.” Whether we like it or not?! Really? Mr. President, this may come as news to you, but most Americans actually do like it.

God damn it, does she really think we’re this stupid? This was a quote directed against critics of America power and against isolationism. It was saying that we have responsibilities in the world. If Bush had something like this, it would have been praised.

That seems to be about it. There’s no final paragraph to tie everything together or offer an alternative vision. Just random egg-throwing and talking points.

And that is what counts as intelligent commentary in today’s GOP. Look back over that. Could you imagine Reagan giving a speech so negative, so ignorant, so lacking in imagination and vision and passion? A speech so entirely focused around anger and resentment? I certainly can’t.

2 Responses to “Sarah Attempts Foreign Policy”

  1. Evan Johnson says:

    Hal, thanks for this post. I’ve never been able to put my finger on why I didn’t like Palin. This clarifies it immensely for me.

  2. [...] Obama went on an “apology tour” criticizing America. I’ve already addressed the bullshit that Obama said he doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism. But the apology tour is [...]