Monday, May 11, 2015

Clinton's Top Foreign Policy Advisor

Interesting profile of Jake Sullivan, who has been Hillary Clinton's top foreign policy assistant for years and will now be the top foreign policy hand on her presidential campaign:
For liberals hoping Clinton will undergo a left-oriented metamorphosis on foreign policy to match the economic and social policy transformations that have her sounding more and more like an Elizabeth Warren acolyte, Sullivan's selection will be a disappointment. He won't drag Clinton to the left — or anywhere else.

"He's in line with her," said Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser to President Barack Obama. "On the spectrum of people in our administration, he tended to favor more assertive US engagement on issues" and "responses that would incorporate some military element." That included early advocacy for arming Syrian rebels when he worked for Clinton at State and the Ukrainian military when he was Biden's national security adviser.

Like Clinton, though, Sullivan is decidedly dedicated to the proposition that no ideology or solution fits every situation.

"Reject cynicism. Reject certitude. And don't be a jerk," he advised the University of Minnesota's public policy graduates in a 2013 address. "Now, when I say 'reject certitude,' I don't mean your core principles. You can and must be certain about those ... But in public policy, principles simply point the way — they do not provide specific answers about what to do in specific circumstances."

He and Clinton both subscribe to the non-philosophical school of so-called "smart power." A concept developed by Harvard professor and former Defense Department official Joseph Nye, smart power encompasses the use of both hard power favored by hawks (military threat, force, and sanctions) and the soft-power levers favored by foreign policy doves (foreign aid, forging cultural and economic bonds, and negotiation).
This appeal to reason has long been one of the tools that hawks use to argue for war. If you think of killing people as just another way of influencing events, just another tool of power, then of course it seems like the rational response in many situations. Pacifism, by contrast, is rooted in an ultimately unreasonable belief that killing people is always wrong. Not all war-mongers are red-faced ranters like Dick Cheney; some are smooth, suave, and completely rational as they argue that, regrettably, it is necessary in this case to blow up a bunch of innocent people in pursuit of the greater good.

6 comments:

David said...

I would cite that famous foreign policy expert, the late Sir Terry Pratchett, who depicts this conversation between two of his characters in Thud!:

"War, Nobby. What is it good for?"
"Dunno, sarge. Freeing slaves, maybe?"
"Absol- Well, okay."
"Defending yourself from a totalitarian aggressor?"
"All right, I'll grant you that, but-"

G. Verloren said...

The problem with excusing so called "just war" is that almost all parties always believe their own wars to be just.

It's not the individual circumstances that matter, it's the overarching mentality and world view. If you're willing to go to war without hesitation for a "good enough reason", you make yourself vulnerable to your own biases, and consequently you're more likely to judge questionable reasons as being "good enough".

Being ready to go to war if necessary is one thing. But we should ideally always be unwilling, even when we have no other or better recourse.

He who hunts monsters, and all that...

David said...

In fact, the individual circumstances make all the difference. They define the parameters of "the overarching mentality and worldview." To me, Clinton and her advisors are far too bellicose, but I'm not a pacifist, and the particular just wars mentioned (and their particular circumstances) are the reason. If it is objected that the defenders of the Confederacy, for example, thought that they were in the right, I'd have to answer that I don't care, for better or worse.

G. Verloren said...

I'm not saying that individual circumstances NEVER matter - they obviously matter for an individual war.

What I was talking about is the philosophical and cultural problem of not viewing war with enough disdain. The mindset of accepting war is a huge part of why war persists. When not enough people are willing to accept war, it no longer happens.

Obviously until such a time, wars will continue to occur. But we still have the obligation to view war with disgust and unwillingess - even if it is a necessary evil, it is still an evil. We can prepare for war and yet still not embrace or accept it.

John said...

I am of course not a pacifist, either, although I have disapproved of most recent American wars. What I object to is the sort of cold, analytical thinking that leads, say, Saudi princes to say that for a pro-Iranian militia to control Yemen is too much of a threat to Saudi "interests," so we had better start bombing them, and if we kill a few hundred people and render a few thousand homeless, well, we have to defend our interests, don't we? Or the kind of thinking that leads liberal interventionists like Hillary to say things like, Assad is a very bad man who uses chemical weapons on his own people and we can't tolerate that while claiming to be civilized and to defend human rights, so we had better start bombing. There are often rational-sounding ways to justify violence. But war is terrible, and the terror and horror of it should always be balanced against any possible good.

I remember being told by a couple of people that we really ought to invade Iraq because, really, what outcome could possibly be worse than leaving Saddam in power?

David said...

It seems to me a major problem is that our military has become profoundly separated from our society. This fact means that a small number of political leaders can think their way into an intervention in the absence of any real commitment from the American public or its political class. It gives interventionists the illusion of a politics-free instrument to act out their poses of moralistic dignity (in the case of Clinton and her ilk) or flippant irresponsible power (What the hell, what could be worse than Saddam?) in the absence of having to ask Americans at large to make any sacrifice. The problem with this is that there isn't much chance that Americans will ever care, for example, as much about forcing Shi'ites and Sunnis to work together as they will about pushing each other around.