America’s Novice Approach to World Affairs

Although the United States remains the world’s sole superpower, this preeminent status is beginning to count for a lot less than it used to, as other nations — rivals and allies alike — begin to quickly catch up.

Our recent (though far from unprecedented) embrace of nationalism and populism is only hastening this relative decline, as Mark R. Kennedy argues in Foreign Policy. In a globalized world, even the greatest powers still need friends and allies, and our increasingly blustering attitude towards the rest of the world risks weakening the foreign ties on which we depend for economic and national security. Continue reading


The 100th Anniversary of the U.S. Invasion of Haiti

History has not been kind to Haiti. As the world’s first black republic, and the only nation founded by a successful slave revolt, it was regarded with contempt by world powers from the very beginning. From France’s onerous debts, to the U.S.’ repeated interference in domestic affairs, this poor yet proud nation has endured countless threats to sovereignty and prosperity — and little recognition of it.

It would likely surprise most Americans to know that their small Caribbean neighbor, rarely more than a footnote in public consciousness let alone government policy, has been repeatedly invaded, occupied, or otherwise meddled with by the U.S. since the early 20th century. In fact, as the Washington Post reminds us, it was 100 years ago today that President Woodrow Wilson — who had then-recently championed liberal, democratic values, such as self-determination, in Europe initiated an almost two-decade-long occupation of Haiti.

Perhaps to its credit, the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian is pretty candid about America’s longstanding interests in the country, and the true motivations of its intervention. Continue reading

The Enduring Lies About The Iraq War

I began systematically to investigate the answers to those and other related questions, enlisting the help of a team of reporters, researchers and other contributors that ultimately included 25 people. Nearly three years later, the Center for Public Integrity published Iraq: The War Card, a 380,000-word report with an online searchable database. [4] It was released on the eve of the five-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq and was covered extensively by the national and international news media.

Our report found that in the two years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush and seven of his administration’s top officials made at least 935 false statements about the national security threat posed by Iraq. The carefully orchestrated campaign of untruths about Iraq’s alleged threat to US national security from its WMDs or links to al Qaeda (also specious) galvanized public opinion and led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses. Perhaps most revealing: the number of false statements made by top Bush administration officials dramatically increased from August 2002 to the time of the critical October 2002 congressional approval of the war resolution and spiked even higher between January and March 2003, between Secretary of State Colin Powell’s address before the United Nations General Assembly and the fateful March 19, 2003, invasion.

— Charles Lewis, in an excerpt of 935 Lies available at


In the United States, in a far more simple time, it took eight years following the end of fighting in the American Revolution to establish the American government. In France, 50 years. In Britain, 210 years. Nobody should expect that the current turbulence is going to subside and that there will be a neat solution within a few years.

In fact, what is happening now is that the global order established following the First World War and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire is itself collapsing and is going to be replaced by a new order. And you should concentrate on helping the people build up that new order.

Finally, the order established after the First World War replaced the Ottoman Empire, which for 400 years dominated the region based in Turkey. And Iraq at that time … for 400 years was three administrative districts operated separately by the Ottomans. The notion and nation of Iraq is a recent construct. It’s less than 100 years old, and it’s undergoing great strain now which it may not be able to survive.

George Mitchell, quoted in Taking the Long View on the Middle Eastby Uri Friedman of The Atlantic.

In the United S…


Calling the invasion and slaughter that followed a mistake papers over the lies that took us to Iraq. This assessment of the war as mistake is coming mostly from well-intentioned people, some of whom spoke out against the war before it began and every year it dragged on. It may seem like a proper retort to critics of Obama (who inherited that war rather than started it). But it feeds a dangerous myth.

A mistake is not putting enough garlic in the minestrone, taking the wrong exit, typing the wrong key, falling prey to an accident.

Invading Iraq was not a friggin’ mistake. Not an accident. Not some foreign policy mishap.

The guys in charge carried out a coldly though ineptly calculated act. An act made with the intention of privatizing Iraq and using that country as a springboard to other Middle Eastern targets, most especially Iran. They led a murderous, perfidious end run around international law founded on a dubious “preventive” military doctrine piggybacked on the nation’s rage over the 9/11 attacks. An imperial, morally corrupt war. They ramrodded it past the objections of those in and out of Congress who challenged the fabricated claims of administration advisers who had been looking for an excuse to take out Saddam Hussein years before the U.S. Supreme Court plunked George W. Bush into the Oval Office.

The traditional media did not make a mistake either. They misled their audiences through sloppiness and laziness because it was easier and better for ratings than for them actually to do their jobs. For the worst of them, the misleading was deliberate. They fed us disinformation. Lapdogs instead of watchdogs.

Meteor Blades, “Stop pretending the invasion of Iraq was a ‘mistake.’ It lets the liars who launched it off the hook“, Daily Kos. 

Read the linked article above and decide for yourself. Personally, I think it makes a compelling case, although even if it were genuine ineptitude, there’d be just as much culpability given the horrific scale of the consequences.

Don’t Call The Iraq War A Mistake

Americans’ Skewed Perception of Oil Supply

When Americans think of oil, they immediately imagine the Middle-East. The association is so strong that we assume the region is far more integral to our fossil fuel supply than it really is. This is somewhat understandable given the impact 1973 oil crisis, led largely by Middle-Eastern members of OPEC, which brought the region into the center-stage of public and political discourse.

But times have changed, even though this four-decade perception hasn’t. That’s the conclusion of the UT Energy Poll conducted annually by the University of Texas. Among other things, it asked where respondents where they think imported oil comes from. As the following graph shows, most Americans are way off the mark.

Nearly 60 percent of Americans think Saudi Arabia is our top source of foreign oil, followed by another 15 percent who believe it is Iraq. That means three quarters of Americans think the Middle-East is our number one source of oil.

But the reality is virtually opposite: our top source of oil by far is Canada, our largest trading partner, with Saudi Arabia accounting for a little over half as much. Meanwhile, Mexico and Venezuela each offer nearly double the imported oil of Iraq, a country seen as the poster child for an oil-driven economy and foreign policy.

The remaining 27 percent of our oil imports is shared by several countries (including Middle-Eastern states), meaning that no single nation has overwhelming influence over our foreign oil supply (barring the unlikely scenario of Canada cutting us off). Plus, it is worth pointing out that the U.S. still gets a large proportion of its oil from domestic sources, with some untapped wells promising near-total self-sufficiency in the future.

In any case, this misconception has consequences. If the overwhelming majority of Americans think we are so heavily dependent on Middle-Eastern oil, they may support initiatives that might otherwise have little traction. Securing a safer global oil supply is widely seen to have motivated U.S. involvement in both Iraq Wars, while oil companies have used the fear of Middle-Eastern dependency to justify ramping up domestic oil production whatever the environmental consequences.

As Sheril Kirshenbaum, the director of the UT Poll, wrote in Scientific American  in October, “Our attitudes eventually shape future policy decisions and define global energy priorities.”

Source: Vox

Formal and Informal War

Congress has formally declared war only 11 times in US history, the last six instances pertaining to World War II alone (one declaration against each member of the Axis). So technically, America hasn’t fought an “official” war since 1945. Additionally, Congress has authorized the use of force overseas 11 times, which includes the conflicts in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq (both 1991 and 2003).

It’s been estimated that presidents have used force abroad without congressional approval over 200 times. Notably, every modern president has at some point claimed that the War Powers Act of 1973 — which was intended to restrain their power to unilaterally involve the US in foreign conflicts — is an “unconstitutional infringement upon the power of the executive branch.”



It’s Time to Show the Horrors of War

From Foreign Policy:

The question I want to ask is more visceral: Do Americans really understand what war is? Do we know what it really looks like? Do Americans understand what it feels like to live in a war — or to enter into one?

The answer, almost certainly, is “no.” There’s one exception: the relatively small group of past and present members of the United States military who have participated in conflicts around the world. (Strictly speaking, we’d also have to add the private contractors who were involved in some of the country’s more recent wars.) Altogether, this a group that doesn’t amount to more than a tiny fraction of the American population, meaning that their experiences remain relatively detached from the rest of the citizenry. Most of their compatriots don’t have a clue. It’s worth noting, perhaps, that the U.S. military is still fighting a war in Afghanistan — not that you’d know from scanning a newspaper, these days.

One might argue that history itself is partly to blame. Aside from Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 attacks, the American homeland has had little direct exposure to armed conflict over the past century and a half. That has made war an arms-length phenomenon, something known only at a safe distance. This is something that also distinguishes Americans from people in many other parts of the world that have experienced war more immediately.

This has left it up to the news media to convey some sense of the reality of armed conflict. And the record here — the recent record, at least — has been dismal.

Would the American public be so accepting or casually indifferent to war if we actually saw the intimate and awful details of it? Or are we too desensitized regardless? Read the rest of the article and share your thoughts.

A Translation Guide to Foreign Policy Buzz Phrases

Although most of these can apply to politics in general. Courtesy of Foreign Policy:

 “We’re evaluating the situation” — We still haven’t done anything.

“Events on the ground are fluid” — If I articulate an official position on what’s happening, somebody could get upset with my word choice.

“All options are on the table” —  Bombs.

“We can’t rule anything out” — We retain the right to do anything and everything.

“Our position has been very clear” — Let me re-read some nonspecific generalizations from the briefing book that don’t address your question.

“We welcome this debate” — After harnessing the federal government’s resources to hide the issue, we’re going to dilute it with adjectives, already-public information, and selective leaking.

“We have serious concerns” — The harshest possible condemnation of an American ally.

“Intolerable” — Tolerable, obviously, since we’re still only talking about it.

“Policy X is not aimed at any one country” — Policy X is aimed at China or Iran.

“We’re in close consultation with X” — We’re going through the pretense of listening to others in an effort to spread the blame and burden.

“I would refer you to…” (version one) — See the earlier comments by a senior official that do not address your question.

“I would refer you to…” (version two) — See the spokesperson at another agency who also will not answer your question.

“I haven’t read that report yet” —  We all read and discussed the report first thing this morning, but it raises uncomfortable questions that I won’t address.

“Person X is free to speak their mind” — Person X still doesn’t fully appreciate our very clear position; such people are often characterized as having “an agenda.”

“I think you’re reading too much into this” — Any news item conflicting with White House policy.

“I’m not in a position to comment here” — An anonymous “official” can fill you in via a well-placed leak momentarily.

“I don’t have anything for you on that” — That is a particularly uncomfortable question that of course I will not answer.

“I’m not going to prejudge the outcome” — Deferring the articulation of any comments to describe an upcoming event.

“That’s an excellent question” —  The opening response to every non-answer.

“I will look into that” — I probably won’t look into that, but feel free to ask again at tomorrow’s press briefing.