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July 4, 2003

Court Historians, Then and Now


by Anthony Gancarski

According to Amazon.com, everything Foster Rhea Dulles wrote is out of print. That said, the writing of Mr. Dulles is worthy of our attention, both because of his family ties and because, as in his America's Rise to World Power (1955, Harper Collins), Dulles builds a neat, authoritative case, debunking the avoidance of foreign entanglements as mere sidewalk talk from a spectrum of rubes.

The similarities between what Dulles does here and what has been done in the last fifteen years to those who saw the end of the Cold War as a signal for America to come home are striking. A close examination of the omissions and hopeful interpretations Dulles uses to justify such claims as he makes about George Washington's Farewell Address [which "clearly reveals that what the first President had in mind was freedom of action rather than complete isolation."]

Such audacious, self-serving interpretations form the crux of the argument of the book's first chapter, "The Tradition of Isolation." Dulles refers to John Adams warning, in 1776, that "we should separate ourselves, as far as possible and as long as possible, from all European politics and wars. To me, that language is as unambiguous as a bloody knife on white porcelain."

The Dulles interpretation of Adams' language, though, is too precious by half.

"The policy so encouraged in the 18th century did not have a negative connotation"; rather, it merely "symbolized a further projection of the revolutionary doctrines of the Declaration of Independence."

Do what? Notice the difference between Adams' use of active voice, which relies on the forcible verb "separated", and Dulles' language, shrouded in the prettifying grab of passive voice. Connotation, symbolized, projection, encouraged; it is clear that the two men, separated by centuries, are likewise cleaved by very different views of the world. Adams' isolationist statement recognizes that freedom and self-determination are inextricably yoked. Dulles, on the other hand, writes from a base of privilege, and relies on the soft tyranny of the passive voice to mask an unvoiceable reality.

Ours would be a better country if the mindset of Adams prevailed over toadies like Dulles. But one need only look at the last fifty years in the most cursory manner to understand that Mr. Dulles was on to something. If his goal was to be a court historian, then he succeeded. And perhaps that was his only goal.

"The Tradition of Isolation" serves as a purposeful apologia for Imperialism. It could do nothing else, and the meat of the chapter consists of dexterous revisions of unambiguous quotes like that from John Adams above. Daniel Webster's 1850 claim that the possessions of the House of Hapsburg "are but as a patch on the earth's surface" compared to those of the Washington government is dismissed as "arrogant", with Dulles coolly adding that "for all the extravagance of such orations. . . such quotations might be multiplied indefinitely... Flamboyant, grandiloquent, self-assertive, they reflected the naïve bumptiousness of a young nation."

Gee whillikers! If I didn't know better, I'd swear that was more nonsense from the "Hate America" and "Blame America First" camps. Luckily, there are voices of sanity, in Dulles' reckoning, who understand that the US government alone is fit to establish its dominion over the world. Forgotten Senator Isaac Walker of Wisconsin finds a place in Dulles' text, with his advocacy that the US should support European revolution in 1851 with "moral and physical power". Edmund Burke shows up here as well, urging Franklin Pierce in "grasping the magnificent purse of the commerce of the Pacific." Pierce, elected President in 1852, claimed a year after his inauguration that "whatever interrupts the peace or checks the prosperity of any part of Christendom tends more or less to involve our own."

Looked at in this context, it's arguable that Franklin Pierce was the first neocon. How far is it from Pierce's equivocating, aw-shucks advocacy of American military action around the world to even the most recent writing of Michael Ledeen? In a July 1 National Review Online piece, Ledeen, not for the first time, makes NRO readers aware of the urgency of immediate US action in Iran. How urgent? Ledeen is willing to call his political benefactors in the Executive branch out as a bunch of do-nothings, claiming that "this administration clearly has no stomach for any sort of campaign against the mullahs."

But such a campaign against the "mullahs" is necessary, more so because "no western government has called for an end to the Iranian tyranny." Such inaction, in Ledeen's reckoning, is doubly dangerous, apparently since Iran has won the war for Iraqi hearts and minds in the reconstruction phase:

"And in Iraq, the mullahs' offensive continues unabated, to the apparent indifference of the leaders of the Bush administration. The newspapers are full of stories about Iran-based religious fanatics calling for an uprising against the Coalition. At least ten Iranian-run radio and television stations are broadcasting anti-American and anti-Semitic venom throughout Iraq, while we have yet to organize a single radio or TV there, to our great shame. And the Iranians brazenly sabotage our reconstruction efforts, as in the case of the monster water treatment plant in southern Iraq, which was dismantled and carted off across the border, or the several factories that were broken up and either smuggled into Iran or sold to them."

This is the kind of dreck that Michael Ledeen has, in the words of David Frum "earned his $25 million" for? Absolutely. And here's a prediction for you, to close this Independence Day column. If by next Independence Day US troops are not occupied in Iran, then Michael Ledeen will find himself forced to support the Democratic nominee. And only then might our President realize how divorced from the interests of actual Americans our "national interest" has become. God save the Republic – before it is too late!

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Anthony Gancarski, the author of Unfortunate Incidents, writes for The American Conservative, CounterPunch, and LewRockwell.com. His web journalism was recognized by Utne Reader Online as "Best of the Web." A writer for the local Folio Weekly, he lives in Jacksonville, Florida.

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