Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Foreign Policy Aftermath of Katrina

It was Jim Hoagland, the Washington’s Post’s liberal hawk par excellence, who first pondered the possible foreign policy consequences...

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

It was Jim Hoagland, the Washington’s Post’s liberal hawk par excellence, who first pondered the possible foreign policy consequences of Hurricane Katrina and the destruction of New Orleans.

“Will post-Katrina America,” he asked in his regular column, “be humbler, more cooperative, and more understanding of other nations’ problems and failures?

“Or will the United States let its active engagement in the world’s human and political crises become another casualty of Katrina’s winds and floodwaters—and of the political turmoil they have triggered?”

Even as Congress and the Bush administration tote up the staggering costs of the most expensive natural disaster ever to hit the United States—current estimates range from 100 billion dollars to 200 billion dollars just in relief and rebuilding costs—few analysts have hazarded an answer to Hoagland’s questions.

There has, of course, been speculation that the storm will weaken Bush’s political authority, particularly over fellow-Republicans, many of whom had become increasingly, if still mostly privately, nervous about the impact of the Iraq War on their re-election chances in 2006, even before Katrina struck.

The fact that an unprecedented number of Republican lawmakers have criticized the federal government’s response to the crisis is one indication that the president is headed quickly toward lame-duck status or worse.

“The Bush Era is over,” declared Post political columnist E.J. Dionne Jr., who argued that the “source of Bush’s political success was his claim that he could protect Americans,” but that that notion was drowned “in the surging waters of New Orleans.”

Others have pointed to the fact that some 7,000 National Guard troops from Louisiana and Mississippi, who could have been available for rescue and security operations at home, were instead deployed to Iraq, along with their equipment, when Katrina hit.

“They should be fighting the effects of flood waters at home—helping people in the communities they know best—not battling Iraqi people who want them to go away,” noted left-wing media analyst Norman Solomon.

Even before Katrina made landfall, however, some of Washington’s foreign policy elite was worrying that the U.S. difficulties in Iraq were souring many citizens on global engagement—at least in the form pursued by the Bush administration—much as an increasingly unpopular Vietnam War turned the country inward, if not isolationist, beginning in the late 1960s.

Just hours before much of New Orleans was submerged in floodwater, Francis Fukuyama, famous for his 1992 “The End of History,” published a broadside attack in the New York Times on the administration’s decision to take the country to war in Iraq instead of building a more sustainable international coalition focused on destroying al-Qaida, and pressing for a stricter proliferation regime that would have attracted far more domestic and foreign support.

The article, entitled “Invasion of the Isolationists,” noted that Republican support for the Iraq war has been confined to only two sectors—“the neoconservatives (who lack a political base of their own but who provide considerable intellectual firepower) and from … ‘Jacksonian America’—American nationalists whose instincts lead them toward a pugnacious isolationism.”

Worse, according to Fukuyama, the administration’s failure to back up its pre-war rationales for invading Iraq—weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ties between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein—has resulted in its defending the war on the neoconservatives’ “idealistic policy of political transformation of the broader Middle East,” a justification, however, in which Jacksonians have no particular interest.

“If Jacksonians begin to perceive the war as unwinnable or a failure, there will be little future support for an expansive foreign policy that focuses on promoting democracy,” according to Fukuyama. “That in turn could drive the 2008 Republican presidential primaries in ways likely to affect the future of American foreign policy as a whole.”

That Katrina’s wrath was focused on the Deep South, the heartland of the “Jacksonians” (named for former President Andrew Jackson, the brutal Indian fighter who also, coincidentally, expelled the British from the United States at the Battle of New Orleans in 1814) was especially ironic—and potentially politically significant—given the weight Fukuyama gives that constituency in sustaining Bush’s aggressive unilateralism.

“I think there are a lot of southern Republicans who are asking why we’re still spending blood and treasure in Iraq and Afghanistan when we can’t seem to take care of our own at home,” said one Congressional aide this week. “Katrina brings home those kinds of policy choices in a very dramatic and concrete way.”

That thinking is certain to have an impact on foreign policy, according to Charles Kupchan, a foreign policy specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“On balance, the impact of Katrina will likely be to make the United States more inwardly focused,” he told Inter Press Service. “I think the American public will tend to say, ‘We have plenty of troubles here at home. Why should we be doing such heavy lifting abroad?’”

“Iraq has been an unpopular war, and its prosecution is eating up ever more political and financial capital, so I think Katrina on balance will dampen the appetite for a wide range of global commitments,” he added.

Indeed, the American Conservative Union (ACU), another Jacksonian bastion that has been very reluctant to criticize the five-billion-dollars-a-month costs of the Iraq War and the nearly 500-billion-dollar annual-defense budget, issued a statement Tuesday warning of a political revolt by its constituents.

“(C)onservatives throughout the United States are increasingly losing faith in the president and the Republican leadership in Congress to adequately prioritize and rein in overall federal spending,” said ACU president David Keene.

He noted that even before Katrina, “American taxpayers have witnessed the largest spending increase under any preceding president and Congress since the Great Depression.”

Anatol Lieven, a foreign policy analyst at the New America Foundation, also foresees foreign policy consequences to Katrina. “I wouldn’t call it withdrawal from the world, but there had already been a certain tailoring of ambition as a result of Iraq,” he said. “But Katrina will push it further both because of the public mood and the financial constraints.”

As to whether such a retreat would be one of “pugnacious isolationism” or, as Hoagland put it, a “humbler, more cooperative” course, remains uncertain.

Judging by Washington’s performance at the World Summit at the United Nations this week, the Jacksonians, one of whose foremost exponents is U.S. Amb. John Bolton, retains the upper hand—although the U.S. negotiating position was obviously worked out before Katrina hit.

Jim Lobe contributes to the Right Web project of the International Relations Center (www.irc-online.org) and is a regular writer for Inter-Press Service, which first published this analysis.

Citations

Jim Lobe, "Foreign Policy Aftermath of Katrina," IRC Right Web (Somerville, MA: International Relations Center, September 15, 2005).

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

“The secretary of state should be the loudest, holdout voice for international diplomacy, dialogue and negotiations in the Oval Office. Throughout his career, (Mike) Pompeo has shown little preference for diplomacy and consistent support for militaristic interventions.” – Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD).


Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts and two-time failed presidential candidate, is a foreign policy hawk with neoconservative leanings who appears set to become the next senator from Utah.


Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman and longtime “superlobbyist” who has supported numerous neoconservative advocacy campaigns, has become embroiled in the special prosecutor’s investigation into the Donald Trump campaign’s potential collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.


Jon Lerner is a conservative political strategist and top adviser to US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley. He was a key figure in the “Never Trump” Campaign, which appears to have led to his being ousted as Vice President Mike Pence’s national security adviser.


Pamela Geller is a controversial anti-Islam activist who has founded several “hate groups” and likes to repeat debunked myths, including about the alleged existence of “no-go” Muslim zones in Europe.


Max Boot, neoconservative military historian at the Council on Foreign Relations, on Trump and Russia: “At every turn Trump is undercutting the ‘get tough on Russia’ message because he just can’t help himself, he just loves Putin too much.”


Although overlooked by President Trump for cabinet post, Gingrich has tried to shape affairs in the administration, including by conspiring with government officials to “purge the State Department of staffers they viewed as insufficiently loyal” to the president.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Other than the cynical political interests in Moscow and Tehran, there is no conceivable rationale for wanting Bashar al-Assad to stay in power. But the simple fact is, he has won the war. And while Donald Trump has reveled in positive press coverage of the recent attacks on the country, it is clear that they were little more than a symbolic act.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The reality is that the Assad regime is winning the Syrian civil war, and this matters far less to U.S. interests than it does to that regime or its allies in Russia and Iran, who see Syria as their strongest and most consistent entrée into the Arab world. Those incontrovertible facts undermine any notion of using U.S. military force as leverage to gain a better deal for the Syrian people.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

An effective rhetorical tool to normalize military build-ups is to characterize spending increases “modernization.”


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Pentagon has officially announced that that “long war” against terrorism is drawing to a close — even as many counterinsurgency conflicts  rage across the Greater Middle East — and a new long war has begun, a permanent campaign to contain China and Russia in Eurasia.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Revelations that data-consulting firm Cambridge Analytica used ill-gotten personal information from Facebook for the Trump campaign masks the more scandalous reality that the company is firmly ensconced in the U.S. military-industrial complex. It should come as no surprise then that the scandal has been linked to Erik Prince, co-founder of Blackwater.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

As the United States enters the second spring of the Trump era, it’s creeping ever closer to more war. McMaster and Mattis may have written the National Defense Strategy that over-hyped the threats on this planet, but Bolton and Pompeo will have the opportunity to address these inflated threats in the worst way possible: by force of arms.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

We meet Donald Trump in the media every hour of every day, which blots out much of the rest of the world and much of what’s meaningful in it.  Such largely unexamined, never-ending coverage of his doings represents a triumph of the first order both for him and for an American cult of personality.


RightWeb
share