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Graham E. Fuller

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Syria — What Cost 'Victory'?

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A deep contradiction lies at the heart of US policy towards the present horrifying conflict in Syria. Which is better? To now reluctantly accept continuation of Bashar al- Assad in power in Damascus for the foreseeable future, thereby hastening the end of the war and the killing? Or to fight till the last Syrian in the belief that an indefinite prolongation of the civil war will somehow bring about a much brighter future for Syria and deal a rebuff to the position of Russia and Iran in Syria? 

The Syrian war represents one of the darkest moments in civil conflicts anywhere in the world in recent years. At this juncture its locus is now in Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city, and an ancient center of Middle Eastern high culture. And this is where the human level of suffering particularly cries out for relief. The number of people who have been killed by bombing—in recent weeks especially by Syrian government forces and Russian air attacks— is horrendous. Fear, starvation and death haunt this once magnificent city.

But there is a decision to be made. Back in 2011 in the midst of the Arab Spring revolutions, there was reason to believe that the Assad regime too, would quickly bite the dust, as did Mubarak in Egypt, Qaddafi in Libya and Bin Ali in Tunisia. But as an early uprising emerged against  Assad, the regime reacted swiftly with harsh reprisals in the belief that a quick putdown would nip it in the bud.
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The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention

Rajan Menon’s new book, “The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention,” (Oxford) launches a timely argument against a dominant argument lying behind so much of modern American foreign policy—“humanitarian intervention” or “liberal interventionism.” We are, of course, well familiar with Republican and neocon readiness to go to war, but the reality is that many Democrat Party leaders have been no less seduced into a series of optional foreign military interventions, with increasingly disastrous consequences. Hillary Clinton is today one of the leading exponents of the idea, but so are many of the advisors around President Obama.

Menon offers powerful argumentation skewering the concept of “humanitarian intervention,” demonstrating how it operates often as little more than a subtler form of an imperial agenda. Naked imperial ambitions tend to be recognizable for what they are. But when those global ambitions are cloaked in the liberal language of our “right to protect” oppressed peoples, prevent humanitarian outrages, stop genocide, and to topple noxious dictators, then the true motives behind such operations become harder to recognize. What humanitarian could object to such lofty goals? Yet the seductive character of these “liberal interventionist” policies end up serving—indeed camouflaging—a broad range of military objectives that rarely help and often harm the ostensible objects of our intervention.
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NATO — America’s Misguided Instrument of Leadership

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On the world scene, America is a declining power. This decline is in part domestic and self-inflicted, reflecting a certain weariness and neglect of our social order. No amount of huffing and puffing from politicians will significantly change this decline. 

 But the decline is also relative, relative to the rise of new world powers. China, India, Brazil, even the return of a more active Russia; all now severely affect America’s former ability to dominate the global scene.

Numerous historical examples abound of imperial exhaustion, loss of spirit and decline. Yet, with our ambitions more modestly set, there is no reason why America cannot comfortably live within the framework of the newly emerging world order. Indeed President Obama, to his credit, (partially) does grasp the already serious costs of imperial overreach—even if his key strategists do not. 

American strategy seems fundamentally stuck in defensive mode against rising powers. Such powers indeed do challenge American aspirations for continued hegemony. But a defensive posture robs us of our vision and spirit; it represents a basically negative orientation, like King Canute on the beach trying to stop the encroaching tide. Worse, American military power—and the budget keeps rising—seems to have become the default US response to most foreign challenges. The Pentagon has put the State Department out of business.
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Dangers of a Declining Global Power

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Much has been written about the dangers and challenges posed by China as a rising global power. Indeed, historians speak of generic tensions between rising powers and status quo powers that have often led to war.

But instability takes at least two players to create it: the rising power and the resistance of the once-reigning power. Today the US is that once-reigning power, now in a state of relative international decline. If the US itself, and the international order including rising powers, do not acknowledge and handle this transition wisely a dangerous confrontation awaits.

The reasons for US decline across the boards are well known and well described in many statistics. They are not, however, regularly acknowledged by large segments of the US population including Washington. Here I would like to look primarily at the foreign policy aspects of this decline and its implications.

The decline of US power abroad cannot be separated from many domestic failings: deadlocked governance, bloated military budgets and their huge opportunity costs, the rise of the military-industrial-security state and its massive cash infusions into Congress; an impoverished political spectrum that begins on the moderate right of center (Obama) and caroms on over into various degrees of crazy right.
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