My old friend or at least acquaintance of (shudder!) more than 30 years Rep. Dana Rohrabacher came to the Orange County Register last week and I got a little more insight into just how difficult our job of keeping the United States out of foreign entanglements is likely to be.
Dana assured me that he still works with Texas Rep. Ron Paul on various projects and says that during the times Ron Paul hasn't been in Congress he's been viewed as the most libertarian Member. And on certain issues he hasn't been bad. While he hasn't been the crusader I might like to see, for example, he has used his position as chairman of the Space and Aeronautics subcommittee to encourage baby steps toward allowing private companies more opportunities to do rocket launches and other space-related activities that for decades had been a NASA monopoly.
But when fellow editorial writer Steve Greenhut asked if he was concerned about what seems like an endless and somewhat damaging search for substitute enemies now that the end of the cold war has deprived the establishment of the Soviet Union, he wasn't equivocal at all. You don't have to search for enemies, he told us. (I omit quote marks because I didn't record it or take detailed notes, but the sense is accurate.) China is an enemy and we ignore the fact at our peril.
He then proceeded to remind us that China has stolen American military secrets, employs slave labor, persecutes religious minorities (or maybe majorities if the Falun Gong is as big as sometimes advertised), and has a program to build nuclear missiles that can reach the United States. It has announced that it wants to eliminate U.S. influence in the Pacific and sees itself as dominating the world. "Free'' trade with China will only build up the power of the totalitarian regime that runs things there.
There was more, much of it quite true. There's little question that mainland China is still run by totalitarians who believe society needs a great deal of direction and punishment from the top, whether the gerontocracy in charge can still be described as actually communist anymore or not. The regime's suppression of Tibetan culture and religion (one of the few policies the Taiwanese endorse) is reprehensible. And those who live in other countries in Asia would do well to view the regime with a great deal of wariness.
But does that mean the United States needs to view China as an enemy and conduct foreign and military policy based on that assumption? I don't think so, and I would have doubts even if I didn't believe that the market-based reforms put in place in the 1980s will eventually (though not on a predictable timetable) undermine the power of the central government and the Internet will assist. China's government is still contemptible (as is most every government) but in Great Power terms China is a regional power.
If China ever does come to dominate the region (hardly a certainty given countervailing powers that might well resist it effectively) it might start to think about world domination. But any such threat is hardly immediate. If the lust for domination of foreigners isn't derailed by an emerging and strengthening preference for building a prosperous economy and enhancing that prosperity through trade the prospect I consider most likely though far from certain its emergence will be preceded by regional clashes that will give the United States plenty of time to improve its defenses and beef up its military if necessary.
As for nuclear spying, the shock expressed by many Americans is akin to the police inspector's shock in "Casablanca'' that gambling was occurring in Rick's Cafe. Of course the Chinese spy; they practically invented spying, or at least cogent and sophisticated theories on the necessity and efficacy of spying. I tend toward the revised Moynihan view on military secrecy that it becomes a fetish that contributes little if anything to legitimate national security interests but if we're concerned the remedy is to assume China (and plenty of others) will attempt spying and revamp security procedures.
Dana, however, was having none of this. He dismissed hopes that China might evolve in a market-oriented and democratic direction as hopelessly naive, not in touch with the not-so-secret ambitions of China's rulers. Those who expect everything to turn out just fine (or at least short of utterly disastrous) if the United States ignores problems and threats in other parts of the world are not realists.
At the same time, however, Dana, like many conservative Republicans, is not wedded to the Clintonite policy of "humanitarian'' military intervention in the interest of world order, multilateralism, international organizations or the good of humanity. He expressed doubts about the Kosovo bombing and criticized the Somalia and Haiti interventions. He argued that it was precisely an American intervention two years ago into what was essentially a civil war in Afghanistan that helped the Taliban regime cement its power. So he's not an unqualified friend of US intervention everywhere.
But the magic words "national security'' combined with reasonably plausible evidence of a totalitarian regime with the potential to be a threat beyond its borders carry a mystical power with many conservatives who came of age during the Cold War. America's national security, as many see it, is constantly subject to threat from a host of international bad guys and if we want to survive as a nation we need a stronger military and the will to use it from time to time.
During the conversation I revised my opinion of Dana. I used to think he was a libertarian who has simply taken the easy political path of drifting in a conservative direction, which makes him much more palatable and electable in a Republican district. I have recently remembered, however, that before he went into his most activist libertarian phase (he was kicked out of YAF in 1969 for his radical libertarian tendencies) he was essentially a conservative anti-communist who had few qualms about the necessity of the Cold War or something more active. He had a period in his life when he moved in a more libertarian direction (although even then he didn't buy into non-interventionism), then he reverted to being the conservative (with a few quirks and the occasional intrusion of charmingly anarchic attitudes) he has been almost all his life.
That makes him oh, how I shudder to admit practicing politicians, even those who are personal friends, might be human more true to himself than the first scenario. But I think it's fairly accurate.
The Dana phenomenon an essentially decent person for a politician who fairly sincerely buys most of the premises of globalism presents those of us who believe the more authentic and beneficial American policy is non-interventionism a with a serious problem. Most Americans who came of age during the cold war and disliked communism (surely a healthy impulse) implicitly bought into some form of globalism as the preferred American policy. Communism, in this view, presented a worldwide threat that the forces of freedom had to be prepared to encounter on a worldwide basis.
I think this view is mistaken. But many of the people who still hold it and have gotten into the habit of thinking about potential future enemies (especially those who are still nominally communist) the same way they used to think about the Soviets are not bad people or insincere pleaders who hold such views only to enhance the power of the American establishment and the American empire. Many even worry about the power of the establishment, though they have trouble understanding that supporting foreign adventures is the best way to keep the establishment established.
It might be helpful to understand and acknowledge that there are different varieties of American globalists or imperialists. Tom Fleming, the properly curmudgeonly editor of the paleo-conservative magazine Chronicles, provided a useful morphology of American imperialists in the August issue of the magazine (perhaps too hopefully themed as "the end of the American Century").
"The oldest and best form of American imperialism,'' Fleming wrote, "is the commercial expansion advocated by Republicans McKinley, Taft, Hoover, and Eisenhower who warned against the military-industrial complex. Although all of these free-traders were occasionally willing to back up the politics of self-interest with gunboats, they preferred to rely, whenever possible, on dollar diplomacy. McKinley had no hesitation about establishing American economic hegemony in Cuba and the Philippines, but he had to be dragged into war.''
Bill Clinton's contention that attacking Yugoslavia was necessary to provide a stable market for American goods had its roots in this tradition, though his imperialism is more eclectic and expansive.
"The second strain,'' Fleming avers, "is represented by the military imperialists: the two Roosevelts, neoconservative hawks like Jeanne Kirkpatrick, and our hormonally challenged secretary of state. One hundred years ago they put their trust in the Navy and gradually switched to advocating reliance on airpower. The common thread is a concern with long-range power and a desire to minimize risk to our troops. They want the United States to be the international cop or, increasingly, mercenary rent-a-cop hiring out to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Turkey.''
Fleming thinks we'll see convenient switches soon and a rationale for using US forces to help our heroic ally Turkey put down its rebellious Kurds.
"The third strain,'' Fleming believes, "is represented by sentimental imperialists, exemplified by Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter, who sugarcoated America's global mission with the language of democracy, progress, human rights an approach that justifies even more dangerous adventurism than the rent-a-cop militarism of George Bush.''
Americans are and have long been suckers for a messianic appeal. Most of us think it really would be nice if we could export "our values'' of freedom, democracy and free markets, thus expanding liberty and human rights and reducing human misery. Too few wonder actively whether missiles and threats are the most efficacious means available to get that job done.
Identifying three strains of imperialistic thought, each with serious roots in American history, doesn't mean they remain separate in practice.
"There is, of course, a convergence of interests in these three strains,'' says Tom Fleming. "Bringing human rights to China means exporting pop commercial culture, which degrades the peasantry to the level of ours and forces them into the global marketplace of jeans and Cokes and McDonald's, while the militarists get to sell the most sensitive technology or give it away in return for bribes which thus alarms the right-wing paranoids in Middle America and gets them ready for all-out war, if necessary, with China.''
It is far from inevitable that the imperialistic tendencies in the United States will continue to predominate. There are and have been strong anti-imperialist forces in American politics populists, peaceniks, progressives, America Firsters, libertarians, adherents to Joe Stromberg's Old Cause and they have won some victories. It might even be the case that the demonstrations against the WTO in Seattle, which were about a lot more than trade and corporatism, mark an important phase in the development of the anti-imperialist movement.
But the imperialist impulse in America is still dominant, still controls who writes most of the history books that are taught in reliably PC college classes, and still controls most of the levers of government power. And it has deep roots in American history as well. If we don't recognize that we are likely to fail.
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