All the Wrong Reasons

There’s a lot to ponder in this open letter to Barack Obama from Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, et al., but I’ll stick to this part:

We have to cherish and protect the multitude of educational, professional, and other networks and friendships that underpin our friendship and alliance. The U.S. visa regime remains an obstacle in this regard. It is absurd that Poland and Romania — arguably the two biggest and most pro-American states in the CEE region, which are making substantial contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan — have not yet been brought into the visa waiver program.

I’ve seen variations on this theme many times over the years: the U.S. government should do something for such and such country because that country’s government contributed troops to some U.S.-led war. I sometimes agree with the policy change suggested, as in this instance. It’s absolutely ridiculous that my Romanian mother-in-law was recently denied a non-immigrant visa on a whim from a sour embassy employee. (An immigration official here in the U.S. even told my sister-in-law that the visa should have been granted.)

But of all the reasons this or any other policy should change, the fact that Romania’s handout-hungry leaders assisted in a war of aggression (when less than half of Romanians supported it) should not count for much – to libertarians, at least.

Don’t F*ck Me Up With Peace and Love?

Maybe this post by George Hawley, “Solving Non-Interventionism’s Tough-Guy Problem,” wasn’t directed at Antiwar.com, but I’ll address some excerpts from it anyway.

In the years since I abandoned my status as a typical neoconservative chicken hawk and adopted Old Right non-interventionism, I’ve been somewhat uneasy with much of the movement’s rhetoric. Specifically, I often find much of the anti-war Right a little too reminiscent of the anti-war Left. That is, many anti-war conservatives and libertarians expend a great number of keystrokes lamenting the American war machine’s innocent foreign victims (see Chronicles
or LewRockwell.com just about any day of the week for examples). This is often my own preferred argument. My concern is that this kind of rhetoric does little to grow the non-interventionist movement’s ranks. …

Although their message is utterly vacuous, the Limbaughs, Hannitys, and Levins know exactly how to frame their arguments in a way that appeals to the GOP base. It’s time for more doves on the Right to learn to do the same.

But, of course, we do make coldly consequentialist, self-interested arguments
against militarism, war, and empire. We also make arguments on moral grounds, from a number of different starting points (including conservative Christianity, which I hear this GOP base is really into). Why make this an either/or matter? Why should we drop half (or more) of our arguments when they don’t conflict with the other half? (There are various types of “humanitarianism” that do conflict with non-interventionism, but we avoid those, so no problem there.)

As for learning from Limbaugh and Levin, please. I know their audience. I was born into it. If I ever write a political memoir, I’ll name it Up From Hannity. There is a Reasonable Right worth reaching out to, but it ain’t in talk radio. These people “think very little about foreign policy,” as Hawley puts it, not out of apathy, but on principle, because thinking leads to questioning, and questioning is a mere Bic flick away from flag-burning, bin Laden, buggery, and Buddhism. The funny thing is, the warbots are not allergic to “humanitarian, we-are-the-world gobbledygook” – in fact, they devour it when it’s in the service of American imperialism. Anyone who watches Fox News knows how quickly right-wingers can pivot from “kill ’em all” to “aww, purple fingers!” The problem is not that peaceniks have tried the wrong arguments on them; they will accept any argument, no matter how heterodox it appears on its face, so long as it reaches the correct conclusion, roughly summarized here. But any argument that reaches a different conclusion, no matter how consonant it is with “conservative values” such as traditionalism, small government, fiscal responsibility, or national sovereignty, doesn’t stand a chance with that crowd.

Lamenting the suffering created by harsh economic sanctions and bombing campaigns is a good way for non-interventionist right-wingers to suck up to their leftist friends and colleagues, but so what? The people moved by such arguments are already anti-war. Building a powerful anti-war coalition on the Right will require an entirely different rhetoric. At all costs it must avoid sounding like Code Pink.

This ignores the salvageable, non-Rush Right, whom we do address, and it seems a little confused about the purposes of advocacy. Not all arguments are about convincing someone to switch sides. Often, it’s more important to get those who agree with you on an issue to care more about that issue, in both absolute and relative terms. For instance, much of our commentary since January has been aimed at convincing our lefty readers that they shouldn’t surrender peace and civil liberties for the various goodies Obama has promised them. We’re always trying to make people rethink their priorities, or merely come out of the closet. Even after a majority of Americans soured on the Iraq war, most remained sheepish, even silent, in their opposition, revealing it only to pollsters. Part of our job is to get people fired up, to translate their dissatisfaction into action of some sort. And you know what? Moral arguments are often good motivators, even for people whose default modes of analysis are amoral.

Luckily, we already have a pretty good format that has worked pretty well in America’s Red regions, and can be applied to the cause of peace. There is a certain ethos that characterizes a great number of ordinary Republicans – or at least the ordinary Republicans with whom I prefer to spend my time. For the lack of a better term, I will call this frame of mind, “Who-Gives-a-Damn? Conservatism.” This is the type of thinking that leads to support for standard GOP policies, but not for particularly-sophisticated reasons. I have no doubt that a great number of grassroots Republicans oppose ideas like universal health care and more federal spending on public schools because they understand, and find compelling, conservative and libertarian arguments about the utility of such policies. I suspect much of the opposition to these schemes, however, is based on a more primal emotion. That is, a lot of people don’t like Big Government because they don’t want to pay for it and don’t really care about the people it is supposed to help.

If you think most self-described conservatives really hate Big Government,
then you stopped paying attention sometime around, oh, the Nixon administration. Good God, man, if they hated Big Government, wouldn’t they at least dislike the most wasteful and intrusive government programs of them all, from the War on Terror to the War on Drugs? No, they love Big Government, from its big, fat boots to its big, fat head. Oh, they’re angry that some of the loot falls on the, um… undeserving, but that won’t stop them from sucking the teats of Social Security and Medicare to the shape and texture of a deflated football. They won’t abide tax increases, but they see no connection between those and deficit spending. And why should they? Just keep those F-22s coming, barkeep! The grandkids are buying!

I do agree with this part completely:

The neocons’ democratist ideology should be treated as just another example of fuzzy-headed utopianism. Bringing “liberal democracy” and “democratic capitalism” to the entire world should be added to the category of ridiculous, never-going-to-happen ideas. The best argument against the neocons is that they are delusional. They are the eggheads dreaming up sentimental, utopian schemes, not us.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Nonetheless, we will gain nothing from adopting the language and posture of the neocons and their fellow travelers. Non-interventionism’s only “tough-guy problem” is the widespread attachment to a mindset derived entirely from dumbass action flicks, which are about as useful a guide for foreign policy as romantic comedies are for romance.

The Suffrage Green Preservation Society

Like Justin, I’m pulling for Iran’s Greenies. No, Mousavi’s worldview and goals aren’t radically different from Ahmadinejad’s; if they were, his candidacy wouldn’t have been approved by the clerics. Nor are the people out in Tehran’s streets good little junior Americans, much less state-hating libertarians like me. But the protesters strike me as decent people with understandable grievances, and Mousavi does have a different temperament than Ahmadinejad, which, as Obama has demonstrated in the last week, actually matters sometimes. (For the first time since the inauguration, I’ve had reason to be relieved that that one beat the other one, because at least the former, while dedicated in principle to all the same fundamentals as the latter, isn’t an impetuous hothead. Obama may yet decide to bomb Iran into compliance with pristine Chicago election standards, but – and I truly hate the phrase “X would have been worse” – Allah only knows what McCain, who combines all the worst traits of a hormone-addled adolescent and a mean old fart, would have done by now.)

In addition to having a better temperament, Mousavi hasn’t yet been fitted for his custom-made caricature. If he miraculously ends up becoming Iran’s president, it will take America’s Mideast hegemonists a few months to affix the Haji Hitler mask to Mousavi’s unfamiliar visage, which may be enough time to head off new sanctions or an Israeli air strike. Moreover, it will be difficult, though hardly impossible, for all the establishment commentators who have made a secular Bodhisattva of Mousavi to take it all back when he, unsurprisingly, protests the U.S. encirclement of his country and insists on Iran’s rights to nuclear energy. In fact, if the mullahs were crafty chess masters, they would invalidate the election results – regardless of who actually won – and install Mousavi immediately. This would be an enormous boost to their domestic credibility (they could blame all the fraud on Ahmadinejad), and it would leave their international critics speechless – again, at least for a while.

But, sadly, that probably won’t happen, so it’s best for those who want peace to emphasize the primacy of negotiations with the Iranian government over the proper composition of that government. And to those who suddenly know, know, KNOW everything about Iranian politics and society: please acquire some self-awareness and humility. A lot of you guys knew, knew, KNEW everything about Iraq seven years ago, and we see the glorious dividends of your omniscience today. If you sincerely want to help your newfound friends in Iran, your first priority should be making sure that our own government (or the one in Jerusalem that it funds and backs to the hilt) doesn’t out-murder the Basij a thousand times over with bombs and missiles.