Thursday, March 12, 2015

Unambiguously Wrong

Daniel W Drezner, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, penned a solid "big picture" piece on the cartwheeling fireball of catastrophic failure that has been the GOP's ongoing attempts to meddle in foreign policy since winning the Senate in the 2014 elections.  The piece is, as I said, really quite good and I strongly recommend it, but one sentence jumped out at me in particular.
"It takes real effort for people, such as Les Gelb, David Ignatius, Fred Kaplan, Richard Haass, Phil Zelikow et al, to get off their bipartisan fence and blast one party for acting recklessly on foreign policy — and yet Sen. Tom Cotton’s letter has managed to pull it off."

Drezner is speaking of Zelikow's comment, also quoted in the Washington Post, that:
"It is never a good idea for elected leaders to give foreigners, and especially foreign enemies, a formal invitation to join our domestic arguments. It is not the conduct one would ordinarily expect from leaders of a great power.”
Those are measured words but coming from Zelikow they are a stern rebuke.  He's a measured person and there is often more in what he doesn't say than in what he does.  Some years ago I took a class from him which surveyed the history of the Cold War period.  The class was taught from an American perspective and, taught as it was prior to 9/11, involved a number of topics still hotly debated and politically contentious.

Zelikow was not shy then, and I very much doubt that he is shy now, about revealing his own political beliefs on these topics.  To describe him as "bipartisan" does him a great disservice; Zelikow is a conservative but a pragmatist and a realist above all else.  He has a partisan viewpoint but holds that viewpoint to scrutiny.  In areas where there are no right answers -- where opinion dominates the narrative -- that is where Zelikow's political preference is most clear.  He once defended - vociferously and compellingly - that US action in Vietnam and the fall of Vietnam to communism did not, as so many have claimed, undermine the premise of US Containment Strategy but rather bolstered those claims.  Without us action in Vietnam, Zelikow argued, communism would have spread far beyond the borders of Vietnam, imperiling US interests in all of SE Asia.

Such a view is hardly bipartisan, but it is also entirely hypothetical and so Zelikow is safe in making it.  In the absence of a clear-cut factual counterargument, Zelikow leans right - and hard right, particularly on issues of military power and strategic posturing.

So when Zelikow condemns those with whom he has traditionally held common ground and does so in an arena in which his political preference is the most pronounced we should take notice.  Drezner is right, it takes a lot to get someone like Zelikow to take sides openly, but in this case it's more than that.  Moreover, given Zelikow's history with the foreign policy apparatus of the Bush Administration -- he served as Secretary Rice's senior advisor -- the comment may reflect a deeper break within the Republican Party.

We will have to wait and see.

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