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15 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:45 am

While We Were Putting Lipstick on That Pig. . .

One of the tragedies of the current campaign is that the two candidates have not yet had a serious debate about America’s role in the world.  Both McCain and Obama have laid out very different visions — to oversimplify, McCain’s robust nationalism versus Obama’s effective internationalism.  But instead of debating the future of American foreign policy, the campaign has degenerated into discussions about such salient topics as lipstick, pigs, celebrities, and bridges.

Jeffrey Goldberg over at The Atlantic suggests that this isn’t a coincidence — McCain is pursuing a vicious campaign because he knows his worldview won’t get him elected.

Like many people who have covered John McCain, I think of him as a deeply serious man, preoccupied with America’s defense and its position in the world. So I’ve been confused for the past few days, trying to figure out why he’s allowing his campaign to make a circus of this election, leveling unserious and dishonest accusations about Barack Obama’s positions on sex education and Sarah Palin.

Then it came to me: The answer can be found in. . .John McCain’s philosophy of war, and in particular with the doctrine of preemption, which McCain still endorses. . . . McCain knows that preemption isn’t the easiest sell these days: “It’s very hard to run for president on this idea right now,” he told me.

So, what do you do when one of your core ideas is out of sync with the predispositions of the American public? You spend your days talking about lipstick on pigs. This might win him the election, but I’d rather see him debate preemption.

I think this is largely true.  Thanks to the Bush Administration, preemption isn’t exactly a popular concept right now.  It’s not merely intellectually bankrupt, it’s also despised by the rest of the world.  What McCain, Bush, Cheney, and I presume, Palin (once they explain everything to her) view as America asserting its interests is viewed in the rest of the world as exceptionalism and even imperialism.

Four more years of such a policy may destroy what’s left of American power and credibility in the world.  Right now, Russia is asserting itself, and they’re doing it by using the Bush playbook.  While no one is paying attention, Venezuela is quite effectively building a new anti-American bloc in Latin America (more on this in a future post).  Erstwhile American allies are beginning to reevaluate whether it makes sense to continue to make friendship with a weakened, angry, and often bellicose United States a priority in their foreign policy.  And perhaps most troubling of all, a strong and assertive China is confidently asserting itself — not merely by hosting the Olympics, but in a number of other ways, most notably through massive foreign assistance projects that just happen to give China access to the natural resources it needs to continue to grow.

Let’s be blunt:  nobody is really that impressed with us anymore.  We’ve become the annoying guest who insists on dominating the conversation but who has little of value to contribute to the conversation.  We’re on the verge of becoming the kid who was a star athlete in high school but who never reaches similar heights in adulthood.

It’s not only that we’re despised.  It’s that we’re increasingly a laughingstock.  If McCain is elected, it could be a tipping point.  Russia, China, Venezuela, Iran, and a number of lesser states will see no reason not to organize in opposition to our interests.  We will find it harder to assert ourselves, or even to be heard.

To be clear, I’m not interested in appeasing or even appealing to such states.  But I’m also not interested in poking all of them in the eye with a sharp stick, especially when we do it constantly and frequently simultaneously.  McCain doesn’t seem to understand that there are a finite number of states you can anger before people start seeing you as the problem — even when you’re in the right.

It’s almost as if McCain wants to go it alone.  After all, that’s what has worked for him in campaigns.  Why not turn it into a foreign policy?

| posted in foreign policy, politics | 0 Comments

15 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
03:30 pm

New Poll: Which Country is the New Nazi Germany?

Yowza, boys and girls, we have a new poll!  Please be sure to vote:

If you’re using an RSS reader, you’re going to need to go to the Undip home page to vote. You can find the poll in the left-hand column.

| posted in foreign policy, politics, war & rumors of war, world at home | 0 Comments

15 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
01:45 pm

Russia-Georgia: The Big Winner


1.  The neocons are so distracted by the new meme of Russia as Nazi Germany, they’ve forgotten all about their old meme of Iran as Nazi Germany.

2.  The Bush Administration, attempting to save face as a result of its failed promises to Georgia, appears determined to shame and isolate the Russians.  If they keep it up, it’s unlikely they’ll get Russia’s continued cooperation on Iran.

3.  The Russians have every incentive now to cultivate the Iranians rather than sanction them.

If I were the Ahmadinejad, I’d be laughing my missile-photoshopping jihadist butt off right about now.

| posted in foreign policy, war & rumors of war | 1 Comment

15 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:45 am

Party Like It’s 1938

McCain campaign advisor, New York Post columnist, and paleocon Ralph Peters, during an American Enterprise Institute discussion yesterday on the Russian-Georgian conflict:

The Russians, on whom I have wasted far too much of my life, are drink-sodden barbarians who occasionally puke up a genius. And we should make no mistake. Vladimir Putin is one such genius. As this brilliantly planned and executed operation illustrates, he is the most effective leader in the world today, certainly of any major country. No one else comes close.

Obviously the ruthlessness helps. He is just uninterested in international law, precedent etc. and for now, for Russia he’s great. In the long run he may be very negative factor for Russia but for now he’s riding very very high.


We’ve done this before. The message we’ve sent to our allies yet again or would-be allies, would-be clients yet again is america won’t come through for you, especially if you don’t have oil or gas. We did this to the Hungarians in 1956. We encouraged them to rise up, and they rose up and we did nothing.

In 1991 with the Shia in Iraq we encouraged them to rise up and they did and we let Saddam’s troops slaughter them. And we have been cheering Georgia on, free-wheeling democracy, go get ‘em, and in the pinch, we failed them utterly…

We’re faced with a resurgent major power, not super power, with imperialist megalomaniacal ambitions led by the most effective and, I would argue, the most brilliant leader in the world today, outclassing everyone I can see. Ladies and gentleman, I find this terribly reminiscent of the 1930s.

Those wacky wacky neocons.  They always want to party like it’s 1938.

You know, I understand the urge to want to revel in history, pretend you’re Churchill, and portray your opponents as appeasers, but come on, folks.  Wasn’t it just a few months ago that you were claiming that Iran was the new Nazi Germany?  Make up your minds already.

Hat tip:  The Swamp

| posted in foreign policy, politics, war & rumors of war, world at home | 1 Comment

5 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:30 pm

The Key Question about Iran’s New Weapon…

…is will it be able to take out Godzilla and giant LOL kittens?  From The Los Angeles Times:

Iran announced that it has tested a new weapon capable of sinking ships nearly 200 miles away, and reiterated threats to close a strategic waterway at the mouth of the Persian Gulf if attacked.

I wonder whether the Revolutionary Guard has deployed its crack photoshop unit yet.

Fortunately for our readers, Undiplomatic has obtained exclusive new video of this amazing weapon.  This is an Undiplomatic exclusive!  Remember, you must credit Undiplomatic!

| posted in foreign policy, globalization, pop culture | 0 Comments

23 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:21 am

Scowcroft Warns against Attack on Iran (Vandy Prize Winner)

In a joint appearance with Zbigniew Brzezinski at CISIS yesterday, Bush 41 National Security Advisor (and Bush 43 gadfly) Brent Scowcroft warned against a preemptive strike on Iran: Read the rest of this entry »

| posted in foreign policy, politics, war & rumors of war | 0 Comments

21 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:00 am

Diplospeak Translator: The Condi and Iraq

Time to roll out a new feature here at Undiplomatic:  the diplospeak translator.  The idea is to take statements by U.S. government officials and convert them into plain English.  Allow me to provide an example:

DIPLOMAT:  We had a free and frank discussion.

TRANSLATOR:  The meeting involved a lot of screaming.  Toward the end we started throwing chairs at one another.

Our first subject:  Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, affectionately known around here as The Condi.

With Maliki-palooza breaking out this weekend, nobody seemed to notice that The Condi took time out from her busy golfing schedule Saturday to talk to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer about her short game Iran and Iraq, among other issues.

Read the rest of this entry »

| posted in foreign policy, media, war & rumors of war | 1 Comment

13 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:14 pm

Is That a Missile in Your Pocket or Are You Just Glad to Photoshop Me?

This is a fairly long post.  I hope you find it worthwhile.

I’m a big fan of Errol Morris, the terrific documentarian whose latest film, Standard Operating Procedure, is a devastating dissection of what happened at Abu Ghraib and how it reflects an Administration unconcerned with the Constitution, morality, or America’s standing in the world.

But liking Morris’s work doesn’t mean that I always agree with him.  Take his oped in today’s NYT, which concerns the recent (largely online) kerfuffle over doctored photos of an Iranian missile test.  To understand how wrong Morris is, we need to take a look at the photos in question.

But first, for those who aren’t aware of the controversy, a quick recap:  last Wednesday (July 10), Iran conducted a missile test.  Initial media coverage made it sound like Iran had significantly expanded its capacity to attack Israel and the United States:

Iran demonstrated its military force with the test-flight of nine long and medium-range missiles in the strategic Strait of Hormouz…. Tehran said the exercise was in retaliation to threats from the US and Israel over its disputed nuclear projects, which it claims are civilian.

Then people started taking a closer look at the photos released by the Iranians in conjunction with the test.  Let’s start with the one distributed by the Associated Press, among others:

Now here’s the version distributed by Agence France Presse (AFP):

Whoopsie!  One of these things is not like the other.

As reported on The Lede, a NYT blog, AFP subsequently withdrew their shot because it was “digitally altered.”  AFP said it got its version from Sepah News, the press arm of the Iranian Revolutionary National Guard, those paragons of truth, accuracy, and good reporting.

Now let’s return to what Morris had to say about the controversy:

[W]hat is the purpose of these Iranian missile photographs? They are clearly altered. The question remains: Why, and to what end?

The government of Iran could not have created a more self-serving controversy. It has focused our attention on Iranian military might more than ever. What will we remember — the digital manipulation of this photograph or the missiles streaking into the sky with their contrails of smoke? Will we ask about essential details — the range or the payload of these weapons? All we are left with is a threat in visual form.

The photographs tell us little about the real threat of Iran. The danger here is not in three missiles versus four. We do not understand the intentions behind the photograph — real or digitally manipulated. Is it a threat? A warning? Or a bluff? All we really know about the photograph is that the government of Iran wanted to get the attention of the world, and it succeeded.

Morris is a brilliant filmmaker and, from what I’ve heard, an equally talented photographer. But he totally misses the point here.  Iran is less ominous and scary as a result of this, not more.  At best they’re bumblers; at worst, they’re complete idiots.

Think I’m mistaken?  Just take a look at posts on sites like Boing Boing (”Iran:  You Suck at Photoshop”), and Wired’s Danger Room (”Attack of the Photoshopped Missiles”).   Netizens are having a field day not only mocking the Iranians but creating their own versions of the photo.  In fact, we should give Ahmadinejad credit here.  For one brief shining moment, liberal and conservative bloggers came together to abuse Iran.

The results are priceless.  Here are a few of my favorites (and yes, I know there are quite a few, but hey, it’s my blog):

Are We Lumberjacks:

Cowicide on Flickr:


Snapped Shot:

The Mini Blog:

Are We Lumberjacks again (this is my personal favorite):


Fark, again:

And again:

And last but not least, Giant Ideas:

So in sum, the Iranians managed to take something that should have been deadly serious and turned it into one big SNL skit.  As “Farmer Dave,” a commenter on Boing Boing put it, “You know, if you’re going to play at the planet’s ‘adult table,’ you really, really, need to make sure you don’t have idiots in your propaganda office.”

But even that isn’t even the complete story:  there’s a very real possibility that the whole “crisis” is much ado about nothing.   Arms Control Wonk:

Yes, Iran has claimed that it is working on a longer, possibly two-stage [missle], with a 2,000 km range — but that ain’t what Iran launched.

Our intern — a clever kid from MIT named Nick Calluzzo — points out that the external dimensions of the tested Shahab-3 are identical to previously tested missiles. Which means the missiles are probably identical.

[Calluzzo:] “Based on analysis of the available launch footage, it is apparent that the missile launched yesterday is, in fact, an older, shorter range version [of the ] Shahab-3A…. [T]he missile launched today is just the same 1,200 km range Nodong-1 knockoff the Iranians have had functional since as early as 1998.”

So in other words, the Iranians just tested a missile that they’ve had in their arsenal for ten years.  Despite this, one of the four missiles “tested” didn’t fire properly.  So to cover up the fact that a decade-old system really wasn’t working properly, they decided to photoshop the results.

And guess what?  It worked.  Set aside the photoshopping issue for a moment and realize that the media ran with a story that wasn’t news.

Furthermore, reports of a second missile test on Thursday also were overblown.  Apparently the only missile tested was the one that didn’t fire on Wednesday — the one sitting on the ground in the AP version and photoshopped into the AFP version.

Now let’s put the cherry on this hot fudge sundae:  the Bush Administration has responded to this with their usual display of calm  and thoughtful deliberation complete hysteria:

[T]he US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, said the [Iranian] “war games” justified America’s defence plans with bases in eastern Europe. She said the tests were “evidence that the missile threat is not an imaginary one…. Those who say there is no Iranian missile threat against which we should build a missile defence system perhaps ought to talk to the Iranians about their claims.”

Okay, let me think about this for a minute.  We are justifying a set of insanely dangerous policies as a result of a test of some missiles that Iran has had for ten freaking years.  A test where not all of missiles fired properly.  A test that demonstrated only that the Iranians’ photoshopping skills have progressed at a faster rate than their missile-building skills.

To be clear, I do think that Iran obtaining the bomb is a genuine national security threat.  But it does not even remotely help that argument when you start portraying a partially successful test of an old system as a clear and present danger.  Let’s keep our eye on the ball, people.  And Mr. Morris, please try to see the bigger picture here.

| posted in foreign policy, media, politics, pop culture, war & rumors of war, world at home | 1 Comment

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