THRILL IS GONE
first disbelieving, then utterly astonished, the cold warrior
faction of the conservative alliance ex-leftist intellectuals,
ex-Truman Democrats, and other disappointed worshippers of
the God That Failed seemed at a complete loss to come
up with any new threats. Politically, the cause of anti-Communism
no longer carried all that much weight: there was always China,
of course, and don't forget North Korea, but things just weren't
the same. With China moving toward capitalism almost as quickly
as the United States and Europe appear to be moving away
from it and toward some "third way"
the thrill of anti-Communism was really gone.
anyone but me noticed that no one, not even David Horowitz,
ever talks about "liberating" Vietnam from the Communist
yoke, or imposing economic sanctions. I guess that is one
war not even they want to re-fight, except in print.
so what does any of this have to do with Dubya's foreign policy
speech, the ostensible topic of this column? Well, a lot,
actually: for here is evidence that, after a long interregnum,
the cold warriors of the past are intent on making a political
comeback and clearly, Dubya is their boy. The circle
of foreign policy advisors that Dubya is always boasting about,
the people he turns to when he has to ask how to pronounce
"Chechnya," are the same grand strategists who prosecuted
the cold war with such unholy zeal and whose plans
for a re-run of that long and arduous battle are explicitly
laid out in this speech.
very setting of the speech the Reagan Library, in Simi
Valley, California was heavy with symbolism, meant
to invoke the atmosphere of days gone by, the glory days of
the cold war. Dubya's speech writers opened with a paean to
the Gipper that was no mere tribute but more like a full-scale
canonization; in hailing Reagan for having "restored
America and saved the world," their florid language seems
more appropriate in describing a god than a mere mortal. But
was not just nostalgia for Reagan, the President, that Dubya's
handlers sought to evoke, but a hankering for a new crusade,
a newly aggressive American foreign policy of international
meddling in the name of some overarching ideal. (What this
view conveniently ignores, of course, is the role Reagan played
as the great peacemaker and initiator of an arms control regime
that remains in force today. But, never mind . . .)
title of the speech, as
it appears on Dubya's website, "A Distinctly American
Internationalism," indicates the major problem that
Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle and Dubya's crew of recycled
cold warriors find themselves faced with: how to convince
an essentially republican (small-'r') people to bear the burden
of empire; how to reconcile the policy of global interventionism
with the post-cold war reality of unchallenged American supremacy.
The ideological rationale for maintaining a global presence
disappeared along with the Soviet Empire but Dubya's
speechwriters think they have figured out a way around that.
the traditional Republican genuflection before the altar of
the armaments industry, bemoaning our supposedly underfunded
military, we are treated to a sweeping rhetorical exercise
that sounds strangely like the manifesto of a very small albeit
verbose Trotskyist grouplet, in terms of content as well as
style, and I quote:
the dark days of 1941 the low point of our modern epic
there were about a dozen democracies left on the planet.
Entering a new century, there are nearly 120. There is a direction
in events, a current in our times. "Depend on it,"
said Edmund Burke. 'The lovers of freedom will be free.'"
THE RIGHT SIDE OF HISTORY?
the tyrants of ancient Greece, from whence the term is derived,
were elected is a fact that our messianic Bushians would no
doubt sneer at. After all, women, helots, and slaves could
not vote, and therefore such elections did not measure up
to the standards of Freedom House and other arbiters of Western
universalism. But the idea that there is a "direction
in events," that we are on "the right side of history"
as Dubya puts it later in his speech, is an idea profoundly
alien to conservative thought. History has no plan, no inherent
tendency or "direction" except that which man gives
it. The doctrine of historical inevitability belongs to another
tradition altogether. This triumphalism, borrowed from Marxism,
is ironically employed to celebrate the victory over Marx.
But it is no more valid coming from the heirs of Reagan than
it is coming from the heirs of Brezhnev and potentially
far more dangerous. But then I'll get to that in a moment;
for now, let Dubya, who didn't flash a single smirk during
the whole speech, continue:
cherishes that freedom, but we do not own it. We value the
elegant structures of our own democracy but realize
that, in other societies, the architecture will vary. We propose
our principles, we must not impose our culture. Yet the basic
principles of human freedom and dignity are universal. People
should be able to say what they think. Worship as they wish.
Elect those who govern them. These ideals have proven their
power on every continent. In former colonies and the
nations that ruled them. Among the allies of World War II
and the countries they vanquished. And these ideals
are equally valid north of the 38th parallel. They are just
as true in the Pearl River Delta. They remain true 90 miles
from our shores, on an island prison, ruled by a revolutionary
the elegant structures of our "democracy" that have
enshrined the two-party monopoly in law and prevented any
real competition for political power in this country for many
years yes, one can only stand in awe of such a monument
to the power of the elites. But that is really a side issue;
what must stick in the craw of any reasonably educated conservative
is the raising of the universalist banner, the quintessentially
liberal idea that ideology must trump culture. Allowing for
regional variations, the "basic principles of human freedom
and dignity" are deemed "universal." And what
are these principles? There is talk of "electing"
whom we will, worshipping whom or what we will, and saying
what we will; but the words "private property,"
or even just "property," are curiously missing from
the Bushian lexicon.
WAS A DEMOCRAT
what is all this blather about "democracy," anyway?
Plenty of tyrants have been elected to office: Huey Long never
lost an election. Hitler ran for Chancellor, and won. And
I have news for Madeleine Albright as well as Dubya and his
advisors: Slobodan Milosevic was twice elected to office by
substantial majorities. Does this mean we should give him
our political and moral imprimatur?
HEART OF THE MATTER
aside the grandiose generalities and that eliminates
a good half of the speech and getting down to the heart
of the matter, the Bushians save their main fire for those
to their right, i.e. to the identical targets of Clinton's
recent wrath, the dreaded "isolationists" in his
own Republican party:
first temptation is withdrawal to build a proud tower
of protectionism and isolation. In a world that depends on
America to reconcile old rivals and balance ancient ambitions,
this is the shortcut to chaos. It is an approach that abandons
our allies, and our ideals. The vacuum left by America's retreat
would invite challenges to our power. And the result, in the
long run, would be a stagnant America and a savage world."
ADDED TO IRONY
Pat Buchanan the real target of this speech
noted, it is ironic that Dubya's speechwriters were clever
enough to evoke the title of Barbara Tuchman's The
Proud Tower. a graphic indictment of the sheer bumbling
incompetence mixed with arrogance that led to the tragedy
of World War I but not clever enough to see
the irony of it. Adding insult to irony, the idea that walking
away from the temptation of Empire would amount to a betrayal
is a kind of moral inversion; peculiar, it seems, to our era.
Was it not the Founders of this country who inveighed against
"entangling alliances, and warned us not to go abroad
"in search of monsters to destroy"? The ideals of
the founders have not only been betrayed: they have been reversed.
mind how Why must we "balance" the
world's "ancient ambitions," and how is this in
America's interest? The ancient ambitions that have poisoned
the Balkans for centuries with their virulence seem immune
to any antidote. Will we referee the age-old grievances of
the Hungarians and the Romanians, the Hutsi and the Tutsies,
the Georgians and the Abhazians, the warring religious, ethnic
and tribal factions of countries whose names we can neither
pronounce nor remember. Certainly Dubya can appreciate the
virtues of a world in which the President of the United States
won't be quizzed on the presidents of obscure faraway countries.
TAX REVOLT AS A MODEL
Bushian attack on the idea that we can in any sense come
home to America, after forty years of the Cold War
and two world wars before that reminds me of the arguments
liberals used to make against Proposition 13 in California,
a popular referendum which started the tax revolt of the 1980s.
The opponents of the measure, which put a permanent cap on
property taxes and placed other obstacles in the path of the
tax-and-spend crowd, declared that the whole machinery of
the State would come to a halt on the day of its passage.
The schools would close; the state government would shut down;
and the bureaucrats would have their phones cut off and their
rented office furniture carted away. Day and night, the California
media was filled with exhortations to vote against Prop. 13,
and unflattering portraits of its author, the indomitable
Howard Jarvis, filled the airwaves and the editorial pages;
the drumbeat never let up as the elites made their position
known. The measure passed and, surprise surprise, the
state government did not (unfortunately) come to a
grinding halt. Somehow, I think that the withdrawal of American
military and political responsibility for the security and
welfare of Europe, Asia, and Latin America not to mention
East Timor, the Middle East, and points beyond would
not result in "chaos," as the internationalists
claim. Somehow, they would make due without U.S. tax dollars,
subsidies, loan guarantees, and American centurions to police
their domestic disputes.
INTERNATIONALIST WHO CRIED "WOLF"
the foreign policy establishment in this country is death
afraid of is that they have cried "wolf!" once too
often. They are beginning to realize is that the American
people are thoroughly sick of it. That is why "isolationism"
is the main target of the candidates of both "major"
parties, why both Clinton and Sandy Berger and Dubya and the
neoconservatives are all saving their most vicious sallies
also, how "protectionism" and "isolationism"
are paired together, like ideological Siamese twins, when
in reality they are not only separable but also not even related,
either by blood or marriage. The old isolationists of the
GOP were not protectionists, and the "Little Englanders"
of the British classical liberal tradition were explicitly
devoted to free trade: on the other hand, the most "protectionist"
regimes (Colbert's France, the Nazis, the Fascist Party in
Italy) have not been models of noninterventionism. But the
Bush speechwriters aren't going to let historical facts get
in the way of their vapidly overblown faux-Reaganite
idea that we will "abandon our allies" if we get
out of NATO, distentangle ourselves from multiple tripwires,
and start attending to our own business is absurd: it is like
refusing to go home once you have helped fend off an attack
on a neighbor's house. How long does it take before an ally
becomes an interloper? This is a question being widely asked
on the other side of the Atlantic. With the European Union
exploring the option of creating its own military force, the
Europeans seem to be saying: "Please abandon us!"
PARTY OF WHOM?
sounds more like Clinton describing the Republicans than any
GOP politician I ever heard; get a load of this, the
high point (or low point, depending on your perspective) of
foreign policy cannot be founded on fear. Fear that American
workers can't compete. Fear that America will corrupt the
world or be corrupted by it.
This fear has no place in the party of Reagan, or in the party
of Truman. In times of peril, our nation did not shrink from
leadership. At this moment of opportunity, I
have no intention of betraying American interests, American
obligations and American honor."
PERLE HAS A FLASHBACK
party of Truman? I think Richard Perle, who used to
be an aide to Senator "Scoop" Jackson, forgot which
party he was in for a moment. Not that it matters, when it
comes to foreign policy, which of the two parties we are talking
about. It's just that such an open acknowledgment of this
unanimity is unusually honest you might even call it
THE NEW ENEMY
so what about specific policy recommendations? Who is going
to play the role of the old Soviet Union in this new morality
play we call the foreign policy of the United States? There
are two nominees, China and Russia, alone or possibly in combination,
alongside the ever-present threat of "rogue nations"
(i.e. peoples who refuse to buckle under the imperial dominion
of the US without fighting back, however feebly). China, says
Dubya, must be allowed into the World Trade Organization
but Taiwan must also be admitted. Dubya pays lip service to
the "one China" policy, but then turns around and
denies Chinese sovereignty over the breakaway province by
pledging to defend it. While the Chinese are no doubt getting
ready for a the acceleration of tensions in the event of a
Bush victory, and this pronouncement further endangers the
people of Taiwan after if it looks like Bush will make
it to the White House, Beijing is capable of a preemptive
attack so far this is pretty standard stuff. But then
we get to the "Eurasian" concept, the real heart
of the matter, in which he enunciates the astonishing principle
this immense region, [from the Ukraine to the Taiwan Strait]
we are guided, not by an ambition, but by a vision. A vision
in which no great power, or coalition of great powers, dominates
or endangers our friends. In which America encourages stability
from a position of strength. A vision in which people and
capital and information can move freely, creating bonds of
progress, ties of culture and momentum toward democracy."
NAPOLEONIC FOREIGN POLICY
does one argue with an American who decides, unilaterally,
that the U.S. must militarily dominate the entire Eurasian
landmass? It is like arguing with a madman who claims to be
OIL AND THE
guided by ambition? Get off of it! Dubya's advisors are peddling
is a vision of a Eurasian landmass not only thoroughly dominated
by American military might, but also completely penetrated
by American and other western economic interests and
it is impossible not to think of the recent oil pipeline agreement,
signed in Istanbul last week, for which you can bet the US
taxpayers will be asked to foot the bill. Behind Bush and
his advisors stand Big Oil and the other banking and engineering
outfits that will profit handsomely from this newly created
US "national interest" in the wilds of Azerbaijan.
Could this account for Dubya's militant "Eurasian"
mentioning Chechnya by name, Dubya attacked Russia's alleged
"brutality" and made it clear that the enemy in
the new cold war would bear an amazing resemblance, at least
ethnically, to the old:
the Russian government attacks civilians killing women
and children, leaving orphans and refugees it can no
longer expect aid from international lending institutions.
The Russian government will discover that it cannot build
a stable and unified nation on the ruins of human rights.
That it cannot learn the lessons of democracy from the textbook
of tyranny. We want to cooperate with Russia on its concern
with terrorism, but that is impossible unless Moscow operates
with civilized self-restraint."
AID TO RUSSIA
begin with, aid to Russia should not be conditional: it should
be unconditionally and immediately ended, as it never helped
the Russian people or the economy and could only have enriched
the worst elements. As for killing civilians, the Russians
may not have the technology for "smart bombs," but
at least they don't have any highfalutin' rationales except
a desire to stop terrorist bombings in heart of Moscow and
other major cities. But Dubya isn't buying it:
as we do not want Russia to descend into cruelty, we do not
want it to return to imperialism. Russia does have interests
with its newly independent neighbors. But those interests
must be expressed in commerce and diplomacy not coercion
and domination. A return to Russian imperialism would endanger
both Russian democracy and the states on Russia's borders.
The United States should actively support the nations of the
Baltics, the Caucasus and Central Asia, along with Ukraine,
by promoting regional peace and economic development, and
opening links to the wider world."
ARE WE . . . ?
who are we to speak of a "descent into cruelty"?
We who are starving the children of Iraq in an inhuman embargo
that killed over 8,000 last month? We who bombed the cities
of the former Yugoslavia into ruins, and hit as many civilians
as the Russians are getting in Chechnya, if not more? And
if it is "imperialism" for Russia to secure its
border against terrorists, then what can we call US military
intervention in Kosovo, in the Middle East, in every troublespot
around the world meta-imperialism? Imperialism par
excellence? And as for those "links" we should
encourage in the Caucasus and Central Asia which just
happens to contain huge amounts of oil and natural gas
I think the main concern of Dubya and his backers is a certain
pipeline that needs not only government subsidies but also
the protection of US troops.
aiming for the soft underbelly of the former Soviet Union,
the Bushian foreign policy cabal is openly proclaiming its
intention to "finish" the cold war and preside
over the complete decapitation and exploitation of its former
adversary. This is the battle cry of the new cold warriors,
who demand that NATO expand to the steppes of Central Asia
and do not even care to hide the purely mercenary purposes
of their foreign policy "vision." Yes, I know there
is a lot of "theory," a lot of guff about "democracy"
and "human rights," but when you get right down
to it the Bush people are talking about extending American
hegemony over most of the earth as a sure pathway to prosperity
their own. The vision of American hegemony is always
coupled with paeans to the virtues of "free trade,"
an ideological cornucopia that will lay the riches of the
world at our feet. But somehow, I suspect, most of us will
never reap the alleged benefits of Empire: the riches will
roll into the coffers of the big oil companies, the big banks,
and, of course, the armaments makers in short those
who have always profited from the policy of perpetual war
for perpetual peace.
Dubya ends his peroration with
a curious formulation:
us reject the blinders of isolationism, just as we refuse
the crown of empire. Let us not dominate others with our power
or betray them with our indifference."
to answer the preppy Smirker and his pompous tutors? I cannot
do better than Garet Garrett, the Old Right editorialist who
foresaw the "democratic" pretensions of our ruling
elite as long ago as 1952, and compared them to those of the
Roman Emperor Octavian, who never did call himself Emperor:
the contrary, he was most careful to observe the old legal
forms. He restored the Senate. Later he made believe to restore
the Republic, and caused coins to be struck in commemoration
of that event. Having acquired by universal consent, as he
afterward wrote, 'complete dominion over everything, both
by land and sea,' he made a long and artful speech to the
Senate, and ended it by saying: 'And now I give back the Republic
into your keeping. The laws, the troops, the treasury, the
provinces, are all restored to you. May you guard them worthily.'
The response of the Senate was to crown him with oak leaves,
plant laurel trees at his gate, and name him Augustus.
After that he reigned for more than forty years and when he
died the bones of the Republic were buried with him."
and his courtiers refuse the crown, but covet the power; they
invoke "democracy" a cause which, not coincidentally,
comes to stand for defending the oil-rich lands of the Caucasus,
where democracy as we know it cannot and will not take root
mocking the "universalist" bombast of the
imperial speechwriters. If Dubya comes to power and we get,
say, Richard Perle at State, and Wolfowitz as head of the
NSC (or vice versa), war with Russia is not only likely but
also practically inevitable. They mean to encircle and then
strangle the reemerging Russian state, before it even has
a chance to breathe let alone grow up. After crippling the
economy with "aid" and enriching the worst elements
of Russian society, the West now self-righteously withdraws
financial support, plunges Russia into a depression, and creates
the very conditions necessary for the rapid growth of Russian
nationalism which, you can bet, will invariably be
called "ultra-nationalism" in the Western media.
FROM THE ID
Quincy Adams, secretary of state under President James Monroe,
warned Americans that a true republic "does not go abroad
in search of monsters to destroy." He could not have
known, of course, that one day his successors in office would
be creating monsters abroad in order to destroy them.