Professor Michael Brenner of the University of Pittsburgh writes some of the most engaging analysis of foreign policy to be found anywhere. In a recent comment on how the midterm election is likely to affect foreign policy he observes that it is important to recall that the Republicans constitute the “political instrument of American business and finance.” He forgot to include that even though the phenomenon is bipartisan, the GOP is also the heart and soul of something that I would call American Stupid.
Ironically, foreign policy was not really on the agenda last week apart from some vague dissatisfaction at a lack of leadership emanating from the White House and most voters continue to be inclined to reject open ended overseas involvements. But reality and perceptions sometimes do not coincide and Republican foreign policy pundits are already speaking about a “mandate” that will enable them to push certain “initiatives.”
And the results will not be pretty. Readers of the Unz Review have no doubt heard of a “realism” based foreign policy. Well, American Stupid has its own foreign policy based on something completely different. If Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan were both money pits and humanitarian disasters you double down in Syria by naming Haiphong bombing sensation Senator John McCain chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, backed by a GOP majority to ensure than everything not learned in the Middle East and Asia during the past fifteen years will also be not learned after the heart of the Arab world sinks into anarchy just in time for the 2016 elections. As Doug Bandow describes it, “America will be intervening again in a few years to try to clean up the mess it is creating today. And then going to war a few years after that for the same reason.”
American Stupid defense policy makes Bomber Harris’s obliteration of Germany’s cities between 1943 and 1945 look like a walk in the park as the Republicans are preparing to revive the Bush Administration’s designation of the whole world as a battlefield. Recall for a moment how the ineluctable Mitt Romney pledged to attack Iran, seemingly to coincide with his inauguration. So did the other Republican wannabes with the honorable exception of Ron Paul. Bombing as a first option is in the GOP DNA.
The media is already reporting how, a mere one week after the election, Republican hawks are meeting to plan their strategy to push the White House in the right direction, to include “legislation already…in the works.” The right direction includes expanding weapons flows and US direct involvement in the war in Iraq/Syria, confronting Russia by arming Ukraine, resisting Chinese “encroachments” in Asia and further sanctioning Iran to torpedo ongoing talks over the country’s nuclear program. There will be for sure some pushback from the miniscule GOP non-interventionist wing, but the hawks are clearly in charge, as the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol gleefully noted. And if Bill Kristol is gloating you know it is bad for the rest of us.
Senator John McCain will head the Senate Armed Services Committee, Richard Burr will chair the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, Bob Corker will head Foreign Relations and Devin Nunes will be the new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Joined by Senators Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte and Mark Kirk, the chorus will all be singing from the same sheet of music. Daniel Larison over at The American Conservative opines that we Americans “can look forward to many years of harmful and reckless Republican leadership on foreign policy and military issues.”
Newly elected Senators Tom Cotton and Joni Ernst and Congressman Will Hurd exemplify American Stupid at its finest. Tom Cotton ran for the Senate in Arkansas by presenting himself as a hard right alternative to the incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor. Cotton, a Harvard Law School graduate and Army veteran, demonstrates that American Stupid can be found anywhere. He has described the US experience in Iraq as a “just and noble war.” During his campaign he stressed the many threats against national security, to include an absurd and completely baseless warning that ISIS would collaborate with Mexican drug cartels to infiltrate the United States. Cotton also blamed President Obama for the Boston Marathon bombing and has called for the arrest on espionage charges and imprisonment of New York Times editor in chief Bill Keller after the Times ran a story on tracking terrorist funding.
Cotton might be described as a protégé of leading neocon Bill Kristol, whose Weekly Standard has been both encouraging and underwriting his political ambitions. Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) contributed $960,250 to the Cotton campaign. Someone should point out to Cotton that ECI has nothing to do with the wellbeing of the United States unless one includes as part of the definition the electing of useful idiot politicians who will guarantee the continuation of unlimited American support for Israel.
Senator-elect Joni Ernst is also a veteran, an officer in the Iowa National Guard, who seems to be a bit fuzzy regarding recent military developments. During her campaign, she told an interviewer that “I do have reason to believe there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.” Wrong answer Joni. There were none.
In her campaign literature Joni also boasted of once working “neutering hogs.” Honest labor of any kind is not to be disparaged, but shouldn’t a United States Senate aspirant emphasize other elements in her resume? And shouldn’t she know a bit about recent history, namely regarding the Iraq war which most Americans now recognize to have been a foreign policy disaster? American Stupid.
Texas Republican William Hurd is more of the same though with a slightly different resume. He defeated incumbent Pete Gallego in a close race for Texas’ 23rd Congressional District. From 2000 until 2009 Hurd, who has a degree in computer science, worked for the CIA as a Clandestine Services officer, a credential that he emphasized in his campaign.
In the three years after leaving government and prior to running for Congress, Hurd was a partner with a strategic advisory firm the Crumpton Group LLC, a risk management firm located in Virginia that was founded by former CIA senior officer Hank Crumpton. He was also a senior advisor working with FusionX, a cyberthreat security firm.
Hurd’s campaign website says that “Prior to returning to Texas in 2010, Will served for almost a decade as an undercover officer at the Central Intelligence Agency. At the CIA, he worked at the nexus of some of America’s most important national security issues leading intelligence operations on counterterrorism, cybersecurity and other critical threats. The majority of his career was spent overseas in South Asia and the Middle East where his primary mission was the recruitment of foreign assets, collection and dissemination of intelligence in support of the President and senior government policymaker’s national security decision making.”
Another account on the site states that “During the past nine years, he has lived all over the world in his position as an Operations Officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, although he primarily served in South Asia… Hurd was involved in rescue efforts in India during the tsunami of 2005 and in Pakistan during the earthquake of 2006.” And also “As an undercover officer in the CIA, Will spent 6 years in the Middle East fighting the war on terror and serving alongside the men and women of the US military.” As Hurd describes it, “I’ve been in real fights. As an overseas officer in the CIA I witnessed folks struggling for freedom and stared down those trying to end our way of life.”
I do not know for sure what Will Hurd did for CIA, but my own 17 years in the organization as a Case Officer working primarily on terrorist targets gives me some insight into what his partially revealed resume actually means. It appears he served in India and Pakistan, probably under some kind of military cover, involving occasional temporary travel to Afghanistan but I would imagine he was a computer specialist, given his background and subsequent employment.
The stuff about what he did in support of the president and senior government policymakers is sheer boilerplate hyperbole on his part as both his lack of seniority and the calendar don’t support his claims. Clandestine service officers go through two years of training with language instruction on top of that, so the admission that Will actually spent 6 years overseas might just be correct, amounting to two overseas tours. But he would have been a very junior officer and his account of working on the tsunami in India and the earthquake in Pakistan don’t quite fit with the depiction of an undercover officer developing intelligence targets. The chest thumping about being in “real fights” embellished with “folks struggling for freedom” and “our way of life” is, of course, complete nonsense. But apparently it was enough American Stupid to get elected to congress in San Antonio.
Hurd, Cotton and Ernst exemplify the macho underside of American politics. It is being argued in some circles that their impact on actual policy, even combined with that of the other hawks, will be limited. That is presumably because more moderate Republicans are in general wary of the political pitfalls inherent in increased involvement overseas while the White House will still have control over conducting both foreign and defense policy. But pundits are failing to take into account the ability of Senators like McCain to monopolize the debate in the media while tying up the process and asserting pressure from their new bully pulpits. The White House will inevitably be forced to defend positions and will find itself responding to the Republican hardliners by using its veto power to limit their ability to undermine its policies, setting up a series of confrontations with Congress. Obama is also eager to negotiate a new Authorization to Use Military Force, which will broaden his own powers to attack anyone he perceives to be a threat, and even though the GOP hawks support the measure the president will likely be forced to cut some side deals to get all that he wants.
American Stupid is not limited to foreign policy. It also finds a home in the frequently observed GOP antipathy towards science, likely rooted in the pandering to some evangelicals over the teaching of evolution in schools, but extending also to the debate over climate change. The latest UN report on the subject, reflecting an overwhelming scientific consensus, is that the change has been brought about by human activity and threatens “food shortages, refugee crises, the flooding of major cities and entire island nations, mass extinctions of plants and animals and a climate so drastically altered it might become dangerous for people to work or play outside…”
If the report is only partially true our grandchildren are doomed to live in a world that will be much different than what we have today even without the devastation resulting from any new wars concocted by the GOP hawks. One might reasonably question the proper role of government when confronted by this genuine threat and the concerns that new president might use the issue as a pretext to increase state control over the lives of individuals is perfectly legitimate. But it is also clear that the Republican response to the problem will be to first double down on the use of fossil fuels by pushing for the Keystone pipeline and offshore drilling before doing nothing. Vintage American Stupid.