Since 9/11, U.S. foreign policy has rested on threats and violence, which resolved nothing. The list of adversaries subjected to U.S. force, with diplomacy and a willingness to seek compromise or a positive-sum outcome distinctly in second place, is embarrassingly long: Somalia, Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan. And the result has been pathetic, to put it politely: trashed U.S. economy, dangerous instability throughout the Muslim societies subjected to U.S. violence, continuation and spreading of non-state Salafi extremism. Obama spent four years avoiding this fundamental U.S. foreign policy failure, but perhaps he now intends to bring the perpetrators to an accounting.
Hagel’s nomination may be the foreign policy tipping point for an Obama Presidency that has so far failed to establish its independence from Washington’s dismal Neo-Con past. Hagel and Obama should welcome every right-wing insult: these “loose lips” set the stage for Obama and Hagel to define Obama’s foreign policy principles. Obama let the right push him around for four years–criticizing tactics here and there but never confronting the fundamental moral questions of a foreign policy founded on violence. Now is his last chance to stand as the man of history who creates a responsible post-Cold War foreign policy.
The guilty War Party (Neo-Cons and allied Likudniks) fear that the Hagel nomination will open the door to a fundamental review of their policy of seeking empire (using 9/11 as the excuse). Despite a decade of disasters for the world and the U.S., the War Party leaders benefited greatly and remain committed to their violent approach. The real issue is not just the fear of political embarrassment and possible war crimes trials. The real issue is that the War Party fears that open debate will lead to denunciation of their broader policy of conducting wars of choice for profit and trying to run the world rather than seeking positive-sum outcomes through diplomacy and the traditional U.S. “city on a hill” stance of leading by example. Topics meriting debate include many un-American Neo-Con concepts such as wars of choice, wars against terror, wars against Islam, wars on behalf of Likudniks, wars against cities, wars for elite profit, state terror, drone attacks on foreign soil, preventive wars, nuclear threats against non-nuclear powers, nuclear discrimination, wars to conceal an elite campaign to impoverish the middle class, and a general thug attitude of “bring ’em on” that has infected the U.S. over the past decade.
The much safer approach of pursuing positive-sum outcomes in a world the U.S. is incapable of properly managing by itself would admittedly cost the military-industrial complex a great deal of money and so will be bitterly opposed. Yet the saner compromise approach would lead to a much healthier U.S. democracy by weakening the elite’s hold over policy making and defining war as an emergency response rather than a policy goal. It is quite likely that the War Party elite fears the strengthening of democracy even more than it fears a public debate over the nature of the Neo-Con response to 9/11. Public debate over fundamental foreign policy issues is likely not only to expose elite war profiteering but to invigorate public demands for bringing accused financial criminals to face their day in court. War profiteering and domestic financial corruption are the twin horses pulling the wagon of the super-rich, who fear the Hagel nomination will expose their game.
Hagel should let the right convict itself and should calmly lay out for the nation a reasoned, peace-oriented, good-neighborly foreign policy based on the search for positive-sum solutions that offer all societies the chance to make their way in the world. This is not idealism; it is logical, efficient rationalism in the spirit of our greatest Secretaries of State from John Quincy Adams to George Marshall.
Questions for Hagel’s Confirmation Hearing
What should a secretary of defense do if his president orders him to lie about the reasons for starting a war?
How should a secretary of defense or a president be punished for starting a war on false pretenses?
Is preventive war a legitimate U.S. policy choice?
Should all options be used in relations with Iran…including the option of offering Iran a fair deal (including security, the right to follow its own path as an independent state, and a set of rules for nuclear behavior that all other regional states are required to follow)?
Can a U.S. leader legitimately promise loyalty to another state?
What is the impact on a Muslim society of Western military interference, including bombings by drones and manned aircraft?
Is violence the proper conflict-resolution method of choice for U.S. foreign policy?