I really just don’t get our foreign policy debates. They’re confused to the point of being schizophrenic. Down is up. Left is right.
Take this post by Max Fisher about Chen Guangcheng, the Chinese dissident lawyer who the Chinese government hates for saying accurate things about the terribly repressive Chinese government. Things like pointing out that the Chinese government has forced the sterilization of women in order to enforce the one child policy. Guangcheng has escaped from Chinese authorities, as you’ve likely heard, and is probably in American custody. This is tricky, of course, but it’s also the case that we may be obligated under international law to provide him with sanctuary. Yet Fisher proclaims that “This Blind Chinese Lawyer May Be the Toughest Foreign Policy Challenge Obama Has Ever Faced.”
Really? When we launch undeclared wars in foreign countries without accountability or review, this is the toughest foreign policy challenge? When we rush into regime change in Libya, after we all were sure we weren’t going to be doing any more of that? When we have systematically dismantled all of the checks and balances on the executive branch’s ability to engage militarily? I just don’t get it. We think nothing of deploying ordnance and changing regimes inconvenient to us. But this is worth thinking hard about. For me, personally, I’d like the decision to give asylum to a dissident who has already escaped from his repressive regime to be easier than the decision to wage war. But it’s the reverse.
It’s insane to me how little the practical question of what we can actually accomplish matters in our foreign policy debates. Still. After everything. “Democracy promotion,” a weasel’s euphemism if I’ve ever heard one, is very very hard, even in the dubious ways that neoconservatives define it. You can make a strong historical case that it’s never actually been accomplished. Spiriting away a single dissident who is already in our custody would be very, very easy. Also, “democracy promotion” involves killing people. A lot of people. Saving Chen would kill, in my rough estimate, zero people. (China is not going to war with us over Chen Guangcheng.) Yes: I understand that diplomatic relationships are very important and very delicate. But just consider the difference in how seriously the foreign policy media is taking this situation and how mundane they find killing innocent people with drones, or how credulous they are when our elites say they can kill the bad guys and install the good guys.