Voice

Rick Perry inspires a new foreign policy award

So I see Rick Perry gave a quasi-foreign policy speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars 112th National Convention.  Here's the gist of the foreign policy section: 

[A]  president should never send our sons and daughters into war without a plan to win, and the resources to make that possible.

In the dangerous world we live in today, our enemies often don't wear a uniform or swear allegiance to a particular flag, but instead to an ideology of hatred.

As the tenth anniversary of the attacks of 9-11 approaches, we must renew our commitment to taking the fight to the enemy, wherever they are, before they strike at home.

I do not believe America should fall subject to a foreign policy of military adventurism.

We should only risk shedding American blood and spending American treasure when our vital interests are threatened.

And we should always look to build coalitions among the nations to protect the mutual interests of freedom-loving people.

It is not in our interests to go it alone. We respect our allies, and must always seek to engage them in military missions.

At the same time, we must be willing to act when it is time to act.

We cannot concede the moral authority of our nation to multi-lateral debating societies.

And when our interests are threatened, American soldiers should be led by American commanders.

I say this because we owe to them, and to their loved ones, to make sure any war we wage is led by the country with the most advanced military technology and the best training.

We have the finest fighting force the world has ever known.

We have a generation of heroes who love their nation, and who willingly sacrifice all that we may always be free.

The men and women of the United States Military are the greatest ambassadors of freedom this nation has ever sent abroad.

That's why, when we send them to war, we must give them every weapon and every resource to help them succeed.

James Lindsay analyzes the content over at CFR, concluding that, "There is something in it for every significant foreign policy constituency in the GOP," although "any mainstream Republican or Democratic presidential candidate could have given Perry’s speech."  This is likely because, "while Perry’s speech was heavy on foreign policy bromides it was short on specifics."

Lindsay is being kind -- this speech is ninety-eight percent concentrated pablum (contra Lindsay, the "multilateral debating society" crack does signal it being a GOP speech).  Seriously, I hereby challenge my friends at Shadow Government who might be Perry-friendly to find something of interest in this speech.  It's the foreign policy equivalent of this scene from The Distinguished Gentleman

 

Now, to be fair to Perry, this San Antonio News-Express news story suggests that he had some constraints on what kind of speech he could deliver.  So, really, I'm not sure that anything of consequence can be divined from this.... er.... assemblage of cliches that maybe, just maybe, passes the Turing Test

Still, what Perry said is such pure, unadulterated boilerplate that, as a foreign policy commentator, one must step back and gape in wonder.  Reading it, the absence of anything interesting kept nagging me as hauntingly familiar. 

And then I realized -- Rick Perry had just delivered the Wolf Blitzer of foreign policy speeches!!  It's familiar, yet utterly devoid of interesting content!! 

And for that, Rick Perry is the distinguished inaugural nominee of the Wolf Blitzer Award for Foreign Policy Boilerplate. 

Daniel W. Drezner

Balancing or bandwagoning with deities?

In the wake of Hurricane Irene, the St. Petersburg Times records an interesting interpretation of recent events from GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann. This is a direct quote of Bachmann:

I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?' Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we've got to rein in the spending.

An interesting hypothesis!! So, there are three possibilities here. The first is that Bachmann was joking -- in which case, wow, that's a really tasteless joke given the loss of life and probably warrants a pretty big apology.

The second is that Bachmann is simply nuts wrong. Doug Mataconis points out,

I’m not sure how this computes given the fact that the storm largely spared Washington, D.C. and New York, while hammering a red states like North Carolina and a heavily Republican area like Virginia’s Tidewater region.

Well, socialist-supporting Vermont got hit pretty hard too, but still, this is a fair point, and "Bachmann being wrong" seems like another safe bet.

The third possibility is the one I want to explore, however -- what if Bachmann is right? What if God really is using wrath to coerce humanity into implementing a particular set of policy preferences?

A God-fearing person would naturally decide to obey. However, this kind of coercive demand strikes me as a pretty massive intrusion into human sovereignty. The point of a democracy is for majorities of citizens and their elected representatives to decide matters of policy. Recent history suggests that neither sovereign governments nor their populations take kindly to coercive threats from other men. If we acquiesce to Divine demands now, don't we just let God win?

Bachmann's response suggests an obvious bandwagoning approach to the awesome power of deities: When God says jump, you should say, how high? And, indeed, if the Almighty really is omnipotent, this strategy has much to recommend it. Bandwagoning is generally recommended when the targeted actor is comparatively weak, has few natural allies, and believes that the targeting actor can be appeased with concessions. This seems to fit the Old Testament, monotheistic God to a tee.

On the other hand, however, might a balancing approach yield better long-term results? After all, God has a disturbing track record of making demands like this. We know from Genesis the Old Testament that the Almighty has a tendency to, well, you know, smite humans on a semi-regular basis. There's the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, an awful lot of Egyptians, etc. This doesn't even include the number of times God demanded death (the sacrifice of Isaac, Ninevah) only to relent at the last minute. Sure, God has some good reasons in some of these instances, but from a threat assessment perspective, it's veeeeery disturbing.

Maybe the bandwagoning criteria don't apply. If one operates along the monotheistic assumption*, humans should ask if there is a possible ally out there to help resist God's will [Don't go there --ed.], an entity who is God's enduring rival [You're really going there, aren't you?! --ed.] , one who might have the necessary power to make God think twice about all that smiting?

It's time to wonder … would a temporary alliance with Satan really be that bad? [Yes it world!! --ed.] Winston Churchill once said, "If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons." Now I'm not sure I would even go that far … the whole selling souls thing sounds like a pretty big demand too. That said, a sober, realpolitik perspective would demand that making a deal with the devil has to be a policy option that stays on the table.

[How about a nice buck-passing strategy instead?--ed. Hey, I'd love to just force other creatures like, say, apes to go toe-to-toe with God, but I just don't see it happening.]

Readers are warmly encouraged to puzzle this out for themselves -- or, instead, to buy the very entertaining Biblical Games by Steven Brams.

*The monotheism assumption is important when thinking about how to cope with a venegeful god. If the universe turns out to be polytheistic, then the question becomes whether us mortals can sow dissension among the gods before someone releases a Kraken.