Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Wright and Hirsh

A fantastic Bloggingheads between Robert Wright and Newsweek's Michael Hirsh. For foreign policy nerds like themselves, this is ambrosia.

Hirsh has some brilliant analysis behind the Treasury Department's mafia-like workings of bank to further sanctions against Iran. Amazing to learn someone in the Bush administration actually knows how to play ball.

The center of the piece is there discussion of Michael Hirsh's piece in the Washington Monthly on Obama and post-Bush foreign policy tradition.

Hirsh has criticized Wright, the post-neo con Francis Fukuyama, Anne Marie Slaughter, and Anatol Lieven/John Hulsman. All have called for in their separate ways, according to Hirsh, a post liberal international foreign policy. For Fukuyama it is realistic Wilsonianism, for Slaughter a world of liberty and law, for Hulsman/Lieven it is ethical realism, and Wright it is progressive realism. Though Hirsh doesn't mention him, Barnett could be figured in with the group of re-thinkers.

For Hirsh what all off these have gotten wrong is they have assumed due to the Iraq War, the UN and the liberal international order is broken and needs a major revamp/complete overhaul. For Hirsh, the real issue is Bush's incompetence and Jacobin radicalism and the overturning of the entire American stream from both Democrats (FDR, Truman, JFK) and Republicans (Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, Bush I).

The piece is a call to Obama to fall into the trap of re-thinking the whole policy but simply returning to a pre-Bush II liberal-conservative international order. American stewardship of the order, as Hirsh calls it, not the system itself. Although to be fair, Hirsh does have his criticisms of the UN and so forth. But tinkering, even major reform, but not total overhaul.

And interestingly Hirsh positively mentions Bob Wright's pre 9/11 book NonZero, which along with Fukuyama's End of History are the two most important dialectical and progressive views of human political evolution since Hegel. So Hirsh's progressivism (and qualified hopefulness) is inversely proportional to his despondency/rage over Bush.

Hirsh sees 9/11 as a tragedy but could have been a go to Afghanistan, take out al-Qaeda, not invade Iraq, work diplomacy with Iran and Syria (which he smartly still favors imo), and the rest as he says would fall into place.

That is an argument I supported prior to the invasion of Iraq. I did not support the war, I thought it would bring these flaws that have occurred, damaged US esteem--also damaging Israel's which I didn't count on--undercutting the UN, furthering the divide of the Transatlantic alliance (NATO), and creating a failed state/training ground like Afghanistan for the original jihadis against the Soviets for future terrorism, creating massive blowback, not to mention the civil war that was bound to occur given the Shia/Sunni split, plus the rise of Iran (destroying their two biggest enemies for them).

Where I disagree with Hirsh is that one can go back to the way it was before Bush. Of course an Obama would get instantaneous love from the Europeans, the Russians could dig him I bet, but that has never really really been the issue as much as right-wing commentators tend to focus on those.

The issue is the existence of autocracies in the Middle East, the lack of freedom. This was the correct understanding imo of the neocons. But the Bush policies have bungled this beyond belief. The ideology of neoconservatism is what killed the ability of them to make hay on their own gains.

If we follow Hirsh's suggestion, then we will be back to markets and realism---i.e. hands off dictators as long as they don't attack us. There is an interesting alliance to be made between a Hirsh and John Robb and isolationists who want nothing to do with nation-state building.

Given how many failed states there are and that al-Qaeda's ideology is spreading virally, I think Hirsh is underestimating how hard it will be to just fly in and catch bad guys all over the world. al-Qaeda al-Qaeda, as in bin Laden and Zawahiri, their version of al-Qaeda an uber-Islamic neo-caliphate is not going to happen. al-Qaeda theology is spreading but as domestic/nationalized sharia jihads. The creation of "national" Islamic states.

Where I think Wright could have gone defending his call for an revamp is here. That with the ideology of al-Qaeda/jihadism/Islamism spreading, markets and realism alone will not work. That is my hypothesis. Hirsh is a very brilliant guy and of course every major change involves (negate and preserve) a great deal of continuity. He is emphasizing--as I would reframe it--the preserver/continuity aspect. The others emphasizing more the negation.

Where Barnett I think has a leg up here is that he is the one who realizes that the future of the international order systems/nation state building capacities comes from India, China, Brazil, Russia the "New Core" not the Old Core (Transatlantic Alliance, Japan, Israel?). So Barnett has the overhaul newness with the first crowd but primed to a neo-international order with Hirsh. The Europeans and Japanese will still play a large role in banking and finance.

A Hirsh-only position leaves the Arab world with this huge youth bubble of young men who are not going to have any hope for a future. The educated ones will find a revolutionary, communal, hero-based (red meme) vision existentially appealing. I see a pre-Bush II return with the sense of moving from Gap to Core as fairly cold. To be fair though Hirsh favors more the markets (liberal internationalist over pure realist) as well as interventions (as he wanted in Rwanda). But again we are left with the basic Barnett question: why do our interventions (see Somalia, Haiti) continue to fail?


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