Sen. Joe Biden (in an response to Sen. Lieberman’s must-read piece on Democrats and the war) writes on his critique of America’s post-9/11 foreign policy. His arguments are reasonable, but the problem is that the world he describes has little to do with the world in which we all actually live. For example:
At the heart of this failure is an obsession with the “war on terrorism” that ignores larger forces shaping the world: the emergence of China, India, Russia and Europe; the spread of lethal weapons and dangerous diseases; uncertain supplies of energy, food and water; the persistence of poverty; ethnic animosities and state failures; a rapidly warming planet; the challenge to nation states from above and below.
Instead, Mr. Bush has turned a small number of radical groups that hate America into a 10-foot tall existential monster that dictates every move we make.
The problem with Biden’s analysis is that all those problems are being dealt with: the Bush Administration has been the most progressive administration in this century in terms of Africa policy. We were the first on the scene for the Indonesian tsunami. We’ve been in the lead on trying to get aid into Burma. The list could go on.
What Biden is trying to do is downplay the reality that terrorism is the central problem we face. Terrorism is one of the factors making our energy supply uncertain, it perpetuates poverty in places like Iraq, and it feeds of failed states. That doesn’t mean that terrorism is the sole problem, but it is the most significant, and a focus on terrorism is by necessity a focus on doing things like preventing failed states.
Al-Qaeda wasn’t turned into a monster by President Bush. They launched the first significant attack on continental America since 1812. They massively destabilized our economy and our way of life. And they would just love to do so again. The confluence of terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction is the greatest foreign policy threat we face—not the phantom menace of “a rapidly warming planet.”
And what would Sen. Biden do? The same policies that failed the Carter Administration:
Last week, John McCain was very clear. He ruled out talking to Iran. He said that Barack Obama was “naïve and inexperienced” for advocating engagement; “What is it he wants to talk about?” he asked.
Well, for a start, Iran’s nuclear program, its support for Shiite militias in Iraq, and its patronage of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
And exactly what leverage to we have to get Iran to change, Senator? Exactly what would talking achieve. Does anyone believe that Ahmadinejad or Khameini is going to agree to a deal in which Iran stops developing nuclear weapons? Are they going to stop spreading their influence because we ask nice?
That is the central, failed conceit of current Democratic foreign policy: it is hopelessly naïve. The Iranians cannot be negotiated out of supporting Hamas and Hizb’Allah. Why should they stop, unless we have a credible threat of force to back us up. Should a President Obama go to Tehran, does anyone really think that the mullahs would give a damn about what he said? They would have no reason to—they know damned well that he would never use force against them, so why would they bother to hold themselves to their own promises?
We tried this approach with North Korea. It didn’t work there, it’s still not working, and it won’t work with Tehran. At best, talking delays the inevitable. Teddy Roosevelt said we should talk softly and carry a big stick. The Democrats want us to go into Tehran, but they also want us to put away the stick.
Beyond bluster, how would Mr. McCain actually deal with these dangers? You either talk, you maintain the status quo, or you go to war. If Mr. McCain has ruled out talking, we’re stuck with an ineffectual policy or military strikes that could quickly spiral out of control.
Except talking doesn’t work. We may not have any choice but to go to war, but we’re not at that point yet. Sen. Biden misses another option: making the costs involved in challenging us too high to countenance.
We need a Machiavellian foreign policy, and the Democrats want us to act like Barney the Dinosaur and pretend that we’re all friends. You want to make Tehran not develop nuclear weapons? You make sure that the costs of doing so are high. We defeated the Soviet Union not through talks, but by making it very clear to the Soviets that if talking failed, we were perfectly willing to wipe them off the face of the globe.
Biden’s arguments on Iran don’t get any better:
It also requires a much more sophisticated understanding than Mr. Bush or Mr. McCain seem to possess that by publicly engaging Iran – including through direct talks – we can exploit cracks within the ruling elite, and between Iran’s rulers and its people, who are struggling economically and stifled politically.
Iran’s people need to know that their government, not the U.S., is choosing confrontation over cooperation. Our allies and partners need to know that the U.S. will go the extra diplomatic mile – if we do, they are much more likely to stand with us if diplomacy fails and force proves necessary.
The Bush-McCain saber rattling is the most self-defeating policy imaginable. It achieves nothing. But it forces Iranians who despise the regime to rally behind their leaders. And it spurs instability in the Middle East, which adds to the price of oil, with the proceeds going right from American wallets into Tehran’s pockets.
What is the alternative? It’s clear that talking is not going to help. The world community is not going to turn against Iran. Russia will not. China will not. Even Europe would balk.
A foreign policy based on meaningless words back with no credible threat of force is a foreign policy damned to fail—just as it did when Jimmy Carter did it. Under his watch, the Iranian regime was founded. We cannot afford such a disaster again.
We have to deal with Iran, but pretending that talk will solve anything is futile. Iran, like the rest of the Middle East, respects strength and laughs at the weak. The Democrats continue to advocate for a foreign policy of weakness in which a servile United States goes to our enemies and begs them to play nice.
Americans don’t beg, we lead from strength. That is how Reagan led this country to the end of the Cold War and how a President McCain will help lead this country to an end to the War on Islamic Terrorism.