The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Exactly Backwards

It seems that every day the news out of the Middle East gets worse. Today, the Taliban initiates new attacks in Afghanistan. Yesterday, al Qaida's black flag flies high in Syria, the day before ISIS makes significant gains in Iraq. So much for "soft power" and the Obama's administration's errant belief that political settlements are a pivotal condition for success in the region.

In a fascinating article on power and politics, Mathew Continetti writes:
It is one of the oldest tenets of modernity: The state must establish a monopoly on violence before civil society can develop and politics can thrive. Read your Hobbes: “And covenants, without the sword, are but words and of no strength to secure a man at all.” Or read the Founders, who, in both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, argued that rights had to be secured before they could be exercised. Power precedes politics.

Something liberals too easily forget. Raised in material abundance, groomed in institutions of higher education, living and working in safe city precincts, liberals are susceptible to the mirror-image fallacy: the belief that, at the end of the day, all human beings are basically alike, basically good, and basically want the same things liberals want—autonomy, diversity, peace, H&M, inexpensive yoga classes, outdoor brunch.

Which leads them to suppose that international politics operates in the same way as domestic politics, through consultation, debate, negotiation, pleading, trading, log-rolling, and compromise.

If only it were so. The affluent societies of the West may be at peace, but the rest of the world remains a Hobbesian environment where there is no monopoly on violence, no global Leviathan. And where there is no overwhelming and dominant power, where there is no deterring balance among equals, there is war.
Admittedly, this is a very harsh view. It is also quite accurate when applied to the Middle East and to much of the rest of the world. In Libya, Syria, Iraq, and soon Afghanistan, the lack of a "monopoly of violence" will lead to continuous bloodshed and potentially, a war that spills beyond the borders of the Middle East.

Continetti continues:
Rising above, coming together, earning confidence, making plans, aligning interests, voicing aspirations, participating in processes—this isn’t an off-site team-building exercise. It’s the Middle East. Next to oil, violence is their biggest export. Why should the Iraqis listen to Obama, when he has no soldiers in Baghdad to put the fear of Allah into Maliki? Why should anyone?

To have successful politics, you need to secure the peace. You need to monopolize violence through the application of power, the deployment of force. The world today is replete with spaces where power is in retreat, leaving violence in its wake, and the liberal internationalists who run our foreign policy are committed to covenants without the sword. They think politics precedes power, and the result is weakness and war.
There are no easy solutions here, but the Obama administration has their strategy exactly backwards. What else is new?