Iran and macho foreign policy

Two good pieces on the crisis that wasn’t with American sailors captured and very quickly released by Iran.  Fred Kaplan:

As news spread of the boats’ seizure and the arrest of 10 American sailors on a routine patrol from Kuwait to Bahrain, the GOP candidates jumped into action. “Obama’s humiliatingly weak Iran policy is exposed again,” tweeted Jeb Bush. On Fox News, Sen. Marco Rubio called Iran’s move “absolutely” provocative. “Iran is testing the boundaries of this administration’s resolve,” he said, “and they know that … the administration is willing to let them get away with many things.” They have accelerated these tests since the nuclear deal, he added, which is why he’d repeal it on his first day in the Oval Office. Donald Trump fumed on Twitter, “Iran toys with U.S. days before we pay them, ridiculously, billions of dollars,” referring to the sanctions relief that will follow the dismantling of its nuclear infrastructure. “Don’t release money. We want our hostages back NOW!” Sen. Ted Cruz found it “striking” that Obama didn’t even mention the detained sailors in his State of the Union address Tuesday night.

In the first 12 hours after the incident, none of the GOP candidates said anything like, “I think we should defer comment until all the facts are in,” a statement they could have made with commandingly furrowed brows. Instead, their motto seemed to be, “Shoot (or at least foment a crisis) first—ask questions later.” Or maybe don’t ask questions at all. Congressional Republicans vowed to bring up resolutions, the very next day, to impose new sanctions on Iran and to delay the release of frozen assets.

Meanwhile, well before Obama entered the House chamber at 9 p.m. to deliver his final ceremonial address to Congress, Secretary of State John Kerry had spoken by phone five times with Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. It had been established that the two American boats had crossed into Iranian waters, very close to Farsi Island, a military site. The sailors were being fed and supplied with blankets. The violation was seen as an accident, and arrangements were in place for the release of the sailors and the boats at sunrise—which took place without a hitch.

If anything, the speedy, peaceful resolution of this incident could be seen as proof that Obama’s nuclear deal, which all the Republican candidates abhor, holds some collateral benefit in addition to its inherent merits—that the diplomacy it unleashed, after 36 years of official silence (Kerry and Zarif had been scheduled to talk on the phone Tuesday afternoon anyway), was what made the rapid settlement possible...

So Tuesday’s incident represented no crisis, no humiliation, no test of Obama’s resolve, no sign of his weakness, and—in retrospect—no need to clutter what Obama saw as a lofty speech about the past and the future with transient blips that would be forgotten in a week. Certainly the GOP candidates have forgotten the blips—and hope that the voters do, too. Not one of them has back-pedaled in the slightest from the storm and stress they incited in the heat of crisis—the sort of crisis that they would be called on to meet, and soberly deal with, 100 times or more in the course of their presidency, a test that they failed miserably this week. [emphasis mine]

And loved this Max Fisher piece in Vox expertly calling out the fact that so much of Republican foreign policy is really little more than macho posturing and theater (framed through a series of ridiculous Joe Scarborough tweets):

Scarborough’s position here is pretty clear: High-stakes geopolitical events do not matter for the actual content of those events or for their concrete consequences, but rather primarily for their quality as theater. Foreign policy is not the conduct of relations between states but rather a locker room competition of displays of toughness. The only appropriate posture is thus one of constant and maximal belligerence.

All the stuff about lives at stake, risks of war, and complex diplomatic issues are just window dressing for what really matters: the zero-sum competition for maintaining national pride or imposing national humiliation…

Scarborough’s position here is pretty clear: High-stakes geopolitical events do not matter for the actual content of those events or for their concrete consequences, but rather primarily for their quality as theater. Foreign policy is not the conduct of relations between states but rather a locker room competition of displays of toughness. The only appropriate posture is thus one of constant and maximal belligerence.

All the stuff about lives at stake, risks of war, and complex diplomatic issues are just window dressing for what really matters: the zero-sum competition for maintaining national pride or imposing national humiliation.

Yes!  Look, I know enough international relations theory to understand realism and get the importance of the signals a nation sends, but it really is utterly inane how much foreign seems to be driven by incredibly facile ideas of simply looking “tough” and macho.

 

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to Iran and macho foreign policy

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    The problem is you just can’t trust most of the GOPers to to act any differently should they be elected President.
    The only hope is either Bush or Kasich. Kasich seems to be cool and pragmatic. He extended Medicaid in his state instead to continuing the punishment of the poor as other Republican governors have done.
    Bush? I can’t forget the sad case of Terry Schiavo. Bush revealed himself as a warrior of the religious far right. His actions were way over the top and he dragged his brother, the President, into it.

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