IS HEARD A DISCOURAGING WORD….
will recall that Mr. Abrams had a spot of trouble
involving Contras, Iranians, and being as truthful
when speaking to Congress as the average Congressman
is when speaking to the people. It is a time best
forgotten. Anyway, I have nothing against those conservatives
whose prefix is "neo," except of course
for their ideas, especially on foreign affairs.
THE HIGH ROAD….
taking the high road, I restrict myself to the argument
made in the essay in question. Abrams' hammer quickly
falls on the 18th-century truism that trade
promotes peace. Adam Smith, Tom Paine, and many others
believed this. In Abrams' view, they were clearly
deluded. Obviously, it is
American power that makes trade possible
and brings peace to the world just ask the Serbs
and Iraqis. Trade helps, of course, but with trade
left to itself, the world would be left to itself,
which is entirely unacceptable. Countless potential
moral prescriptions would go unfilled. "Take
two fairly honest elections, and call me in the morning.
If I'm out, call my consultant, Dr. Carter."
aside the question of which shady medical school gave
Dr. Sam his degree in Universal Social Phrenology
and what licensing board told him he could practice
wherever, whenever, and however he pleased, there
is the small matter of patient consent. There is also
the issue of whether or not "destroying the village
to save it" really conforms to the Hippocratic
Oath, assuming Uncle Sam and his agents and factotums
ever took the oath.
BOERS, CHINA SYNDROMES, AND 'CUBER'
I wander off my subject. Mr. Abrams is at pains to
indict the moral judgment of business "lobbies"
– USA*Engage, the National Association of Manufacturers,
the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the National Foreign
Trade Council – when they intrude upon Uncle Sam's
worldwide enforcement of righteousness. They are,
he suggests, perilously close to the sort of thing
that all those "trading with the enemy"
acts were meant to prevent. Of course this calls for
a rather openhanded definition of "enemy."
Abrams does not deny that trade can soften
those un-American regimes, but, gosh, it's just too
slow. I suppose that bombing and starving those "enemies"
is more dramatic and does produce quicker results.
From what I read, however, the results are generally
not what they were forecast to be. Indeed, US aggression
and blockades, so far, seem only to kill and brutalize
sundry foreigners without actually toppling, or even
unduly inconveniencing, the regimes about whose conduct
Uncle is, from time to time, upset. I mean, you might
conceivably dredge up a case where Uncle has toppled
a regime, but the ones that come to my mind – like
the late, unlamented Somoza regime – involve governments
which Uncle invented, bankrolled, pampered, and then
jettisoned at the last possible minute, when their
liabilities created revolutionary situations beyond
recall. Uncle is very good at acting surprised when
these things happen. He's had so much practice. Besides,
Dr. Frankenstein ought to be able to topple his own
monsters once in a while, otherwise his quacksalver's
license might be lifted.
no, Mr. Abrams is proud of how the Reaganites, instead
of washing their hands of the gang in El Salvador,
got right in there with constructive engagement and
set to work "professionalizing the army and police."
And rightly so – it's worked so well here at home,
too. Makes sense to me. Keep handing these guys lethal
weapons, pay their bills, and see to their training
in crowd control and peasant-smashing, and then counteract
the predictable results with a few ad-hoc courses
in Kantian Ethics. Works every time. What Kant himself
would think, I can't say.
former South Africa is a case in point. Left to themselves,
the greedy US capitalists would have just gone on
violating South African law – which the South African
regime had lost the heart to enforce, anyway by
promoting qualified people, without regard to race,
under the famous Sullivan Principles, instead of selling
used tires and petrol to the comrades. Congress, driven
forward by high moral fervor (not to mention domestic
US ethnic politics) mandated sanctions, and those,
in the end, we are told brought about the new,
peaceful, democratic South Africa. I'm surprised that
so few liberals and neo-cons have immigrated to the
new paradise, but I suppose they have prior commitments.
a good thing that Congress steps in to keep businessmen
moral, as in South Africa, Cuba, and China, otherwise
they would be cooperating with "REPRESSION."
What exactly is it that they are doing within US borders,
one wonders, if not cooperating with repression? But
never mind, there is only one international Judge
Roy Bean and we all know who that is. He won't let
"his" businesses stray off the reservation.
The wicked Canadians, by contrast, trade with Cuba,
and thereby take moral responsibility for everything
old Fidel and his minions do. And all for a few cigars.
trade could ever take place at all, if trade's necessary
precondition is a complete resolution of all the world's
disagreements and woes, is hard to say. Mr. Abrams
is not troubled. In that he reminds me of John McCain's
role-model, the ineffable Teddy Roosevelt, who was
always fulminating about the "cowardice"
of the business classes. But Teddy always wanted a
war. You have to wonder whether he had some unresolved
addition, Teddy – like his cousin FDR was a son
of the landed gentry of upstate New York. Such people
are "above" the grasping upper bourgeoisie
with their dirty factories, their productivity, and
their bottom lines. The latter are useful people,
to be sure, but they don't know how to build an empire
– not without some retraining. No vision, you see.
SINNERS IN THE HANDS OF AN ANGRY SAM
all this is mere prelude. Mr. Abrams wishes to justify
"sanctions" and silence those who fail to
understand their merits. Business critics of sanctions
argue, he reports, that unilateral sanctions must
work badly, whereas multilateral sanctions would work
well. Clearly, he's dealing with rather wimpy opponents
of sanctions, so wimpy in fact as to call to mind
a certain gun manufacturer's recent, brilliant, head-on
approach to gun-control.
invokes Hans Morgenthau to show how hard it is to
conjure up a concert of nations every time Uncle Sam
has a moral twinge closely connected to other, more
sordid interests of his. (The "sordid interest"
bit is mine, not Morgenthau's.) Hence, we can't count
on multilateral sanctions. Yet sanctions there must
be. This is because, without them, there would be
"just two alternatives: words or war."
to go all 19th century on you, but I should
have thought that sanctions amount to a blockade,
and blockades, traditionally, were acts of war. If
so, the proposed distinction between sanctions and
war falls short of the mark, if it does not wholly
collapse. This leaves us with a choice between 1)
war, 2) war, and 3) words.
are not against stacking the deck, it seems, nor are
they much for words, when there are so many wrongs
to be righted and only ONE moral arbiter this side
of the galaxy. Their unexamined assumption of superior
American morality stands completely divorced from
any realistic assessment of US practice in this century.
Abrams asserts that the American people demand that
Uncle moralize and threaten "everywhere in the
world" (to quote FDR). This shows how wonderful
the people are. In sooth, special interests, axe-grinding
academics, and other usual suspects push their projects
through the legislative sausage-machine. At this point,
the people are asked to approve or disapprove initiatives
which the Paper of Record and its nationally-owned
"local" counterparts have taught them to
cherish. Sometimes, they appear to approve. What this
demonstrates is less than clear.
forward his case against selfish, narrow business
critics of sanctions, Abrams asserts that "only
money, not blood, is at stake." Aside from the
pseudo-aristocratic and anti-economic contrast between
money and blood, both of which are of importance to
real, acting human beings, this formulation gives
the game away by exposing the tunnel vision of the
sanction-mongers. Yes, American companies
lose a little money, while no American blood
is shed – since sanctions do fall short of war by
not requiring a contest involving equal risk, honor,
bravery, and the other traditional warrior virtues
on both sides. If no one but Americans lived in the
world, this might be an open-and-shut case. But a
million and more dead Iraqi civilians later, the morality
of sanctions seems a bit suspect. So don't tell us
that "only money, not blood, is at stake,"
please, without first telling us who is and who isn't
foreign populations hostage for the actions of their
leaders implies that they already enjoy "democracy"
– the absence of which, however, is said to show the
evil of the various "rogue" regimes. If
there is a contradiction here, it is not of my making.
When all is said and done, just what the hell is so
great about fostering "democracy" all over
the world? What business of ours is it if people in
other lands live under a monarch, an annoying aristocracy
obsessed with fork placement, or an upstart dictator?
One could easily be freer under an absent-minded king
or tyrant than under the watchful eyes of the neo-Puritan
schoolmarms who now infest the republic. Read the
last few chapters of Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy
in America, for a realistic and detailed anticipation
of the regime under which we presently live.
IS NOT LIBERTY
happier days before the old New Right (1955-1970,
more or less) coalesced with the neo-conservatives
former social democrats mugged by the New Left,
as the saying goes William F. Buckley used
to write about "democracy" as an empty dogma.
The modern obsession with method, he said, had raised
participation by all sentient life-forms in periodic
elections to a first principle. At that time, liberals
were still winning elections.
changed, and ever pragmatic, liberals suddenly spied
drawbacks in democracy. One drawback was the American
people, who inexplicably refused to take step #7 of
the 10 steps to social democracy. Actually, it may
be 500 steps; no one really knows. As the despicable
Redleg officer in Outlaw Josey Wales says,
"Doin' right ain't got no end."
the people weren't taking the steps not on schedule,
anyway. This was partly the fault of mean old George
Wallace, out there settin' the woods on fire. This
proved that democracy wasn't everything. To have everything,
you must control the Supreme Court, which can tease
socialist/statist imperatives out of even the most
uncooperative 18th-century "text."
Failing that, the Nine Delphi must at least block
any rollback of previous liberal achievements.
MOSTLY FOR EXPORT
to worry, however. "Democracy" was still
a damned good export product. The whole world ought
to have it – and quick – under detailed US supervision,
of course. You wouldn't want those crazy foreigners
making mistakes and electing leaders opposed to US
"interests," whatever those might be. Elected
leaders like Mossadegh, Arbenz, Milosevic, Ho Chi
Minh, Haider…. Clearly, democracy needs careful guidance
backed up with aerial sorties.
FOOL ON THE HILL….
have not done justice to Mr. Abrams' essay. It would
take a Mark Twain or an H. L. Mencken to do that.
It is well-written and tightly argued. If the premises
were correct and the logical linkages held up, it
might sway the intellectuals and dazzle the masses.
As it is, however, it will only convince the heirs
of a certain northeastern, Yankee outlook, to whom
Uncle – under their advice and direction, of course
embodies the Puritans' City on a Hill. The
Beatles had a different phrase, which may be more
to the point.
more thing: it bears mentioning that "economic
warfare" – so esteemed by recent US administrations
as a clever mechanism "short of [real] war"
– has never worked very well, if by "working"
we mean that it should have had, in its results, some
very rough approximation to the alleged purposes of
the economic warriors themselves. Sad to say, our
own Thomas Jefferson showed this with his absurd,
criminally unconstitutional, and divisive embargo.
The embargo almost ruined the northeastern carrying
trade and utterly failed to "coerce" Britain
and revolutionary France into doing anything they
didn't wish to do anyway. It almost drove New England
into secession and that, I admit, has its attractions,
but the price was far too high.