Some conservatives really miss the cold war the moral certainty, the atmosphere of crisis, the monomania that justified gargantuan "defense" budgets and a high-maintenance national security nomenklatura. Ever since William F. Buckley Jr. declared in a 1956 article in Commonweal magazine that we would have to accept big government "even with Truman at the helm it all" for the duration of the cold war, the Right had thrown over its traditional opposition to world-saving internationalism. For decades the face-off with the Kremlin provided conservatives with a cause, an audience, and a living: then, suddenly, it was over. The Berlin Wall fell and, with it, the power and influence of professional cold warriors the world over.
At 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.
Has 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.
Okay, 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.
The 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 . . .)
The 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.
After 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:
"In 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.'"
That 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:
"America 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 relic."
Yes, 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.
And 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?
Sweeping 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:
"America's 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."
As 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.
Never 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.
The 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.
What 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 for Buchanan.
Note, 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 imagery.
The 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!"
Bush 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 his speech:
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."
The 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 brazen.
Okay, 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 that
"In 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."
How 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 Napoleon.
Not 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" strategy?
Without 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:
"When 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."
To 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:
"Just 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."
And 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.
By 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:
"Let 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."
How 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:
"On 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."
Dubya 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.
John 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.
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