Mike Pence is a dangerous moron. And no, in this case, I’m not referring to the Governor of Indiana’s fairy-tale economic fundamentalism, or his sinister religious zealotry that has led him to assault the civil rights of LGBTQ Americans and suggest that they be subjected to violent and dehumanizing “conversion therapy.”
I’m not even referring to the ability he demonstrated during the recent Vice Presidential debate to dodge the question of why he’s willing to stand alongside a fascist who has threatened political violence, attacked the civil rights of Latinos and American Muslims, demeaned African Americans, insulted women, and threatened reporters.
In this case, I’m referring to the foreign policy views he expressed while debating Tim Kaine. The moderator repeatedly asked the two Vice Presidential candidates about the threat posed by ISIS. Instead of articulating a policy, Pence did his best to portray Hillary Clinton as responsible for ISIS. He repeatedly cited the Obama administration’s inability to negotiate what he regarded as a very necessary status of forces agreement that would have left a significant U.S. troop presence in Iraq.
Pence also explained the rise of ISIS by claiming the organization was “conjured up out of the desert.” That sort of mystic, fatalistic language that substitutes an Orientalist reading of landscape and culture for analysis of causation explains how Pence could be so badly wrong about both what caused ISIS and about the relationship between U.S. power and the success of the terrorist organization. It also suggests that Pence is fundamentally incapable of understanding the historical roots of global troubles, or the relationship between those two savants, Cause and Effect.
It is perhaps understandable how a man who launched his political career with racist advertising and who is an unrepentant supporter of George W Bush’s murderously destructive war on Iraq could get foreign policy so very wrong.
Pence suggested on national television that ISIS was somehow “conjured up out of the desert.” The historical record suggests that the U.S. war of aggression against Iraq might have had a little something to do with the rise of ISIS.
Intelligence officials—as revealed by the British Chilcot Report—warned Western governments that invading Iraq would make western publics less safe from terrorism, provide a shot in the arm to Al Qaeda and similar organizations, and could lead to an intractable civil war in Iraq. But Bush pushed for that war anyway, and his Vice President lied to the public about the threat posed by Iraq.
The U.S. invasion of Iraq destroyed the country’s infrastructure, wiped out the institutions central to holding the state and its citizens together, and ushered in a period of chaos and bloodshed. The U.S. occupation created the predictable power vacuum that led to the proliferation of terrorism, and also sparked an anti-occupation insurgency, that terrorists were able to use to acquire legitimacy, organization, and recruits. These were foreseeable and widely-predicted outcomes of the invasion Pence supported and has continued to defend.
Pence’s idea that prolonging this disastrous occupation—disastrous in its violent principles, its conception, and its execution—through a status of forces agreement would have “solved” Iraq is one of the more absurd claims I have heard about international policy during a very absurd election season.
If we can understand that invasion and destruction by an occupying army helped to spark and insurgency and empower ISIS, we can hopefully also understand that prolonging that occupation would be more likely to exacerbate the problem than solve it. Iraqis did not regard the U.S. military as a force for good in their country; it was understandably seen as an occupying army. If we followed Pence’s advice, we would likely have given ISIS an even firmer standing within sections of Iraqi society, and increased its legitimacy in the region by allowing itself to claim the mantle of anti-imperialism.
Some simple-minded pundits celebrated Pence’s performance and suggested it left him well-placed for a presidential bid in 2020. But if you actually listened to what Pence said, rather than focusing on his demeanor and expression, you’d realize that we’re talking about a religious bigot with savage views about the rights of gay and lesbian Americans. We’re talking about a man who preaches economic fundamentalism of the sort that has repeatedly crippled our country’s economy. And we’re talking about a man who doesn’t have even a modicum of understanding of international policy or of the implications of his votes in Congress on international policy.
Far from being the adult in the Oval Office beside his unhinged boss, Pence would be an ignorant and malicious presence, providing bad advice, and offering religious justifications for the cruelty of Trump’s economic, social, and international policies. His choice to align himself with the fascist Donald Trump simply cements what should be obvious: Pence is unfit to govern.