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Stephen Kinzer

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Saudi Arabia is Destabilizing the World

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Just a few months ago, the governor of Indonesia’s largest city, Jakarta, seemed headed for easy re-election despite the fact that he is a Christian in a mostly Muslim country. Suddenly everything went violently wrong. Using the pretext of an offhand remark the governor made about the Koran, masses of enraged Muslims took to the streets to denounce him. In short order he lost the election, was arrested, charged with blasphemy, and sentenced to two years in prison.
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The US is Your Know-it-All Friend Who Should Just Keep His Mouth Shut

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When makers of American foreign policy dream of an ideal world, they fixate on one word: primacy. It used to be called “full-spectrum dominance.” On the street, it comes out as “Don’t even think about it.” Tough guys in Western movies put it differently: “This town ain’t big enough for both of us.”

However it is phrased, “primacy” is the view that the United States rules and all must accept our power. It is the new buzz word in Washington. Nothing about the idea, though, is new. The drive for global primacy is what sunk us into Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and all of our other overseas disasters. This pernicious doctrine — now summed up in a single word — has sapped American power and palpably weakened the United States. Nonetheless, it is widely accepted in the corridors of American power. That guarantees future failures on the scale of those that have already cost us dearly in blood and treasure.

Primacy is the demon spawn of “exceptionalism.” It is based on the belief that the United States is the “indispensable nation,” the only force standing between civilization and barbarism. Wherever there is conflict or trouble or upheaval in the world — and even where there is none — the pursuit of primacy requires that the United States intervene.
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Time to Talk to Syria

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As the horrific carnage in Syria continues, a depressingly familiar chorus is rising from Washington. The new consensus is the same as it was in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan: Bombing isn’t working, so let’s bomb more. A familiar coalition — generals, defense contractors, and politicians, along with think tanks and much of the press — is demanding escalation of our military campaign in Syria. There may be a limit to how many unwinnable wars the United States wants to wage in the Middle East, but it evidently has not yet been reached.

Refusing to pursue a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Syria is nothing new for the Obama administration. In 2012, the United Nations and the Arab League launched a peace process and named former UN secretary general Kofi Annan to direct it. Annan’s first proposal was that all parties to the conflict meet for discussions. The United States flatly refused. Our policy then was to reject all contact with the Syrian government or any faction that did not announce in advance that it supported the overthrow of President Bashar Assad. Making that political point was considered more important than stopping the killing. Annan recognized that the US position doomed his mission, so he abandoned it. If the United States had placed peace ahead of misguided principle in 2012, much of Syria’s agony might have been avoided.

This callous disregard for the destruction of a nation and the suffering of its people has remained central to US policy toward Syria. Hillary Clinton, who as secretary of state delivered the message to Annan that the United States would not join his peace effort, is among those calling for escalation. In one of her e-mails as secretary of state, Clinton asserted that deposing Assad would be “a massive boon to Israel’s security” and that “only the threat or use of force will change the dictator Bashar Assad’s mind.”
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Is NATO necessary?

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Britain's vote to quit the European Union was a rude jolt to the encrusted world order. Now that the EU has been shocked into reality, NATO should be next. When NATO leaders convene for a summit in Warsaw on Friday, they will insist that their alliance is still vital because Russian aggression threatens Europe. The opposite is true. NATO has become America’s instrument in escalating our dangerous conflict with Russia. We need less NATO, not more. 

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was founded in 1949 as a way for American troops to protect a war­shattered Europe from Stalin’s Soviet Union. Today Europe is quite capable of shaping and paying for its own security, but NATO’s structure remains unchanged. The United States still pays nearly three­quarters of its budget. That no longer makes sense. The United States should remain politically close to European countries but stop telling them how to defend themselves. Left to their own devices, they might pull back from the snarling confrontation with Russia into which NATO is leading them. 

Russia threatens none of America’s vital interests. On the contrary, it shares our eagerness to fight global terror, control nuclear threats, and confront other urgent challenges to global security. Depending on one’s perspective, Russia may be seen as a destabilizing force in Europe or as simply defending its border regions. Either way, it is a challenge for Europeans, not for us.
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The Media are Misleading the Public on Syria

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Coverage of the Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press. Reporting about carnage in the ancient city of Aleppo is the latest reason why.


For three years, violent militants have run Aleppo. Their rule began with a wave of repression. They posted notices warning residents: “Don’t send your children to school. If you do, we will get the backpack and you will get the coffin.” Then they destroyed factories, hoping that unemployed workers would have no recourse other than to become fighters. They trucked looted machinery to Turkey and sold it.
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What Truly Conservative Foreign Policy Looks Like

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American foreign policy is based on deep convictions. Those who shape it believe the United States is the indispensable nation that must lead the world; this leadership requires toughness; and toughness is best shown by threatening or using force. Beneath these beliefs lies the assumption that the United States knows more and sees further than other countries.

Many liberals embrace this dogma. That makes sense. It emerges from the liberal tradition, which imagines that humanity is steadily progressing toward a perfect world in which no one will go hungry, warlords will disappear, diseases will be cured, and people will cooperate for the common good.

Any true conservative would find this preposterous. Liberals have an expansive, optimistic view of what they can achieve in the world. They see themselves as a force for good and can be tempted to crash into other countries to “help” them toward “modernity.” Liberalism contains within it a sense of evangelical mission, which sometimes leads to we-know-best arrogance.

Conservatism, by contrast, is a live-and-let-live ideology. By nature it is prudent, careful, and restrained. Conservatives do not believe that any country can solve the world’s problems or is called to do so. They want to leave other nations alone, not remake them. That makes restraint in foreign affairs an essentially conservative doctrine.
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