George Washington

Devon, PA.  In February 2007, as the Iraq war crept to the end of its fourth year, I published this short essay, proposing a few notions on foreign policy that I had rattling in my head.  When writing it, I sometimes grew nervous, deranged by the prospect that someone might actually read this and find it in some way controversial.  As with most of what I write, it turned out that the whole world agreed with me.  Either that, or it disdained me.  I find the former hypothesis more probable.

As FPR finds its own slow creep into maturity, we have seen some readers and some editors call for concrete proposals that could be translated into practical politics.  I think this a good gauntlet and a good time to throw it, though I would also add that, while I hope FPR may play some role in influencing the tide of American culture and even its politics, I doubt very much and hope not a bit that anyone shall ever look to this journal for a political platform all its own or a party line to be “toed.”  While I hope to provide more substantial contributions more properly attentive to our present moment, as time, kids, and taverns allow, I thought this early essay might be of some interest or even some use in keeping the conversation rolling; the charitable reader–and that is the only kind who can claim to be literate–will bear in mind the date of composition and forgive the references to such antiquated figures as John Kerry.  I include the original by-line for reasons of unabated paternal pride.

Hegel observed, in his most oft quoted metaphor, that wisdom comes to us only when it is past the prime of its use.  A philosopher would think such a thing, because a philosopher constantly faces the disappointment of realizing the ideas in his head do not spring forth from it intact and vital.  The wisdom of speculation therefore seems sealed off from the life of practice, and practical wisdom may seem always to come to life too late.

The truth is more painful.  Ideas have consequences, but most of the time human beings carry out their lives cheerily numb to the best ideas and in unconscious thrall to the worst ones.  Moments of violent historical crisis, however, tend to provoke changes one would not have thought possible a few years, sometimes a few days, earlier.  Though one hopes otherwise, for instance, it is presumable that significant change to our practices of stewardship in the world will only come after some further, unmistakable natural disaster.  The First World War unleashed radical intellectual energies across the globe that manifested themselves in romantic nationalist and Marxist revolutions.  The conclusion of the Second World War, in contrast, snuffed out those energies almost entirely, so that the globe could settle into a cold hypostasis of two powerful ideologies for nearly five decades.

These are crude examples, but I think the premise holds: the routine crises of our history are the birth pangs of beautiful ideas becoming actualized and, at least as often, the birth pangs of teratomas to make the hopeful humanist shudder.

September 11th was such a crisis, where the opportunity for high inspirations to globe the full-strung sails of history presented itself.  Inevitably, much of the American response to that moment was shaped by fear, but some bold vision of the future was also held forth.  President Bush declared that the United States’ sorry legacy of manipulating weak and semi-sovereign states for benefit of its power and business interests would end.  The deaths and coups his father had either overseen or ignored while head of the CIA would cease.  America’s gift to the world would not be merely its own robust market, Bush declared; it would be the freedom that stems from democracy.

Half a decade later, we find ourselves mired in Iraq, the promise of a democratic Middle East occasionally – only occasionally – still dangled before us as an excuse for an invasion completed and justification for an occupation prolonged.  If one watches Fox News, one hears that serious reflection on how we got to this moment should wait until the mission is accomplished.  If one listens to the most prominent Democratic voices in Congress, one learns that, however unfortunate the war, slow and small steps must be taken to achieve some kind of victory.  Right and Left alike appear mired not only in Iraq but in a kind of thinking that cannot move beyond the framework of realpolitik.

I sympathize with both these positions.  One must appreciate how attuned to the media are many of the insurgents in Iraq, and how devastating it can be to question one’s country’s sense of integrity and rectitude at home when they are threatened abroad.  And one must commend the gradualism of the political process to the extent that it arises from prudent policy rather than prurient party interest.  But to allow this moment of crisis – this intractable conflict in Iraq – to pass without the voicing of some few bold ideas would be a great opportunity missed, an instance of cowardice rather than prudence.

First, and above all, let us drop the charade of spreading democracy in the Middle East or around the globe.  Democracy is not America’s gift to the world.  Baseball is, followed closely by the poetry of T.S. Eliot.  Political institutions in themselves are relative and malleable, intended to fit the contingent historical conditions of a community in its efforts, first, to nurture and fulfill man’s political nature while also sustaining and promoting the common good – which are the two absolute and transhistorical poles to which all practical politics are ordered.  We cannot lend others the institutional forms necessary to attain their own common good unless we can also offer them our particular history—and this is to confuse peace between peoples with the replacement of one by the other.  More importantly, we ought not to pretend that the lending of those forms – a few scraps of procedural democracy – in itself constitutes bequeathing either a just or tolerable society.  Russell Kirk once observed that to “expect that all the world should, and must, adopt the peculiar political institutions of the United States—which often do not work very well even at home—is to indulge the most unrealistic of visions.”  I would go further and call it a perverse vision: a sickly confusion of government with politics, positive laws with a people’s history, and technocratic rationality with the foundations of community.

Second, as President Bush has acknowledged, our past is filled with educational chapters in the use of foreign policy for bloodily acquisitive ends.  This is something neither recent Democrats nor Republicans have shown much imagination in changing.  The chief difference between this second Bush administration and the Kerry administration that was not to be is that the former is unapologetic about using military power in support of American corporate interests.  What was the latter going to offer the world?  A shrugging, squeamish confession that “this will hurt me more than it hurts you,” as he orders another surge of troops into the latest foreign entanglement?  A slight redistribution of defense spending to infuse democratic movements within regimes we do not like?

Aside from ceasing to manipulate foreign regimes by clandestine and public coercion, we might reluctantly concede that America and the rest of the world would all be better off if we learned to shift for ourselves.  The difficulties of economic autarky seem lest costly than those of an ever-expanding appetite for foreign products and mined and drilled resources.  And, of course, autarky need not be confused with isolationism.  The nicest thing about going abroad is coming home again to stay.

These are intended as bold ideas suggested rather than easy solutions commanded; and so, third, we might consider how appalling it is that the U.S. military has permanent bases located across the globe.  I understand the strategic practicality of those bases.  What I do not understand is how we can accept them as a permanent feature of our foreign policy.  If we believe in our state sovereignty as a virtue, we should station our troops at home to guarantee the integrity of our borders.  If we believe in the sovereignty of other states as a virtue as well, we should do what is necessary to admire it from afar.

This proposal would indeed be a hard sell.  Almost from its founding, the federal leadership of the United States has imagined a new form of empire – one that avoids the permanent problems of colonization that eventually undid the British Empire.  The domination of capital, the threat of sudden, unpredictable military might, and the promise of an exit strategy make possible an empire without conquest, the fruits of victory without the planting of flags.  It allows, moreover, Americans at home to believe that their daily lives—the products they import, the gas they burn, the debt they accumulate or allow their government to accumulate almost beyond measure—do not implicate them in what begins to look like state terror abroad.  We can play at our national fantasy of being “rugged individualists” without musing at the speedy checkout that it is for us the world bleeds.

Presuming these three proposals were followed, we might also suggest that, fourth, satisfied with its own national borders the federal government might also give state lines some integrity once more by returning the United States to its birthright of federalism—or, better yet, anti-federalism.  And, fifth, as a bizarre technological fulfillment of the American tradition of valuing life and liberty, we might prudently match the advances in our missile defense systems with the destruction of our stockpiles of nuclear weapons.

These propositions will no doubt frighten some with their extremity and others with their provincialism.  My own conviction remains, however, that the paradox of America’s present crisis is that the path of cowardice and authoritarianism lies in continuing military adventures abroad and that of courage and charity lies in a turning inward, a return home, an acceptance of the bounty Providence has given.

 James Matthew Wilson is a Sorin Research Fellow.  He proudly admits that the only revolution in which he is truly interested is that of his daughter, Livia, who rolled over for the first time while he was writing this column.

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James Matthew Wilson is Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities and Augustinian Traditions at Villanova University. An award-winning scholar of philosophical-theology and literature, he has authored dozens of essays, articles, and reviews on subjects ranging from art, ethics, and politics, to meter and poetic form, from the importance of local culture to the nature of truth, goodness, and beauty. Wilson is also a poet and critic of contemporary poetry, whose work appears regularly in such magazines and journals as First Things, Modern Age, The New Criterion, Dappled Things, Measure, The Weekly Standard, Front Porch Republic, The Raintown Review, and The American Conservative. He has published five books, including most recently, a collection of poems, Some Permanent Things and a monograph, The Catholic Imagination in Modern American Poetry (both Wiseblood Books, 2014). Raised in the Great Lakes State, baptised in the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas, seasoned by summers on Lake Wawasee (Indiana), and educated under the Golden Dome, Wilson is scion of a family of Hoosiers dating back to the early nineteenth century, and an offspring of Southside Chicago Poles whose tavern kept the city wet through the Depression (and prohibition) years.  He now lives under the same sentence of reluctant exile as many another native son of the Midwest, but has dug himself in for good on the margins of the Main Line in Pennsylvania with his beautiful wife, dangerous daughter, and saintly sons. For information on Wilson's scholarship and a selection of his published work, click here. See books written and recommended by James Matthew Wilson.

45 COMMENTS

  1. Dr. Wilson’s above, rejecting the idea of American ‘foreign interventionism,’ marks FPR as a leader in the effort to restore the American republic. No doubt the essay is being copied to his file by some dedicated, nose-picking, apparatchick assigned to surveil those deviating from the ‘truth.’

    In the years to come, by the grace of God, his daughter will know that her father publicly declared for those principles that would once again establish the olde republic. This knowledge, I should think, will go a long way in sustaining Livia as she grows up.

  2. Wilson,

    This fine essay takes its place in the tradition of Coolidge, Taft and Kirk. Notice the progression from President to Senator to Man of Letters.

    There are only three problems with it. First, despite the noble Poles and Hoosiers in your heritage you got the “L” knocked out of you somewhere along the line. Second, however much I wish that baseball were our gift to the world (and so thankful that it’s not soccer), it’s probably basketball. Cubans and Dominicans and Japanese play baseball, but EVERYBODY plays basketball. Third, despite my mentor Kirk’s devotion to Eliot, and clearly your own, Robert Frost is a Gift Outright and accessible to many others than the England in whose heart Eliot dwelt.

    Your last paragraph above is beautiful.

    Best, Willson

  3. The great danger about American foreign policy is that it really is about spreading democracy, or rather spreading a particular democratic institution: periodic elections as the sole basis of legitimacy. To the extent that democracy means the consent of the governed, in some way, it is a good, if relative, thing. If elections are the sole sign of that consent, it may actually be a perverse thing. For example, the Turkish empire, for all its rapaciousness, did manage to get the Turks to live in peace with the Armenians and the Kurds. But under the “democratic” Atta Turk, there was a genocide that Hitler took as a model for his own dealings with the Jews and others.

    Our history shows that the white majorities in the South were quite capable of oppressing the Black minorities, while the majorities in the North could oppress the Irish. Democratically.

    The individual is not the only source of authority, and “one man/woman-one vote” not the only source of legitimacy. Electoral democracy privileges the voter against the non-voter (children, the future, the disenfranchised, etc.) Hence my generation, the worst in our history, was able to apportion to itself all sorts of privileges and subsidies, all of which the next generations will have to pay. Which of course they can’t. As I remind my students, in just a few years, they will owe me a lot of money, so get good jobs.

    Oh, wait, that’s not working either.

  4. “A shrugging, squeamish confession that “this will hurt me more than it hurts you,” as he orders another surge of troops into the latest foreign entanglement?”

    Wow. Well stated, and prescient. If you hadn’t prefaced this by letting us know the time frame in which it was written, I would have though you were referring to the current occupant of the Imperial throne.

    I think your proposal makes a fine start to a foreign policy platform. One that I think most of us here at FPR would be willing to support. Although, I would have to throw my vote in with Double L, and nominate Frost for poet laureate.

    Well done,
    Tom

  5. Gentlemen, I would think that Prof. Wilson’s characterization of T.S. Eliot is not a disparagement of Frost or any other great American poets. It seems more appropriate to think of Frost as a gift of America to herself, and jealously held, at that. He does not speak–does not care to speak–to non-Americans. T.S. Eliot took an American (if academic) sensibility to Europe and abroad, and thus is an American poet for more worldwide consumption.

    As for basketball, it is surely widespread, but… I think a gift has to be something presented for the benefit of the receiver, no? Basketball is more like an American contagion.

    But truly I have no strong opinions on the matter.

  6. Chris,
    A former student of mine, and cherished friend, has spent many years in Afghanistan, speaks their languages, understands them well. He says that Frost is the American poet whom these poetical people understand. He says that he has to explain much about the West, but when he reads Frost to them “they stroke their beards reflectively, and nod.” They would not nod at Eliot, and that’s no disparagement of him, either.

  7. When I decided to reprint this, I thought, “On FPR, these ideas are sufficiently old hat that they no longer appear especially disputable.” But, at the time I wrote this, I had only just picked up Bill Kauffman’s “Look Homeward,” and was only just about to take out a subscription to American Conservative. In a word, it is stunning to think that just under three years later these words, issued in isolation, strike me now as matters we — a small we, numerically, but still, a “we” — can take for granted.

    Thus, the only controversial point in my essay remaining is whether Eliot or Frost constitute America’s chief gift to the world. While my essay does not propose the question, I can understand why one would raise it in response to the essay.

    Let me say, first, that my goal is to spend the remainder of my life reading and rereading Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, um . . . and Frost and Eliot.

    Further, sometime this year, I’ll be writing a handful of essays on Frost for FPR and for First Principles. As some of you know, my talk for the FPR panel at Notre Dame was on Eliot and Stoicism; my argument is that, contrary to appearances, Eliot was a profound critic of stoicism and that this is a great virtue, because stoicism is the inevitable ethical form that results from the decay of a community with a shared conception of the good.

    Much though I love Frost’s work — and we read him aloud at home more often than we read Eliot — he was a dualist and a stoic. Both those positions are, if you will, anathema. I don’t want to make that case here; I just mention all this to indicate that Dr. Willson, despite his poorly spelled name, has picked up on a thread that leads a long, long way.

  8. James Matthew (both of which you spell correctly),
    Frost was also a Christian and not a Cartesian dualist. He was Aristotelian, and never, ever was tempted into the Emersonian transparent eyeball or any other Platonic nonsense. I can’t tell you how much I look forward to how far this thread might go.
    Willllson

  9. It is interesting that these four points are no longer controversial but very much a part of the national conversation, even shared bythe President’s. It will I suspect be a long time though before we close those bases in Europe – the Europeans have gotten used to having us foot the bill for their defense.

    I’d go with Frost myself –

  10. Well, this is an interesting task. What are the not-yet-mentioned contenders for primary gift-to-the-world status?

    1. I think most people would say the Declaration of Independence. I’m not most people.
    2. Film as a communicative medium. I confess, I can go months and months without watching a movie, and can’t remember the last one I saw. Probably Christopher Nolan’s apology for the Bush administration’s war on terror, “The Dark Knight.”
    3. Philosophical pragmatism. I confess to some sympathy for this, although I think it was a movement that got derailed pretty quickly. Still, if we had more pragmatists of the caliber of Walter Lippmann around, we’d be a lot better off now.
    4. American-style Constitutionalism. Too clumsy an artifice, and too open for abuse.
    5. The car. Um — no.
    6. Space exploration. Um — no.

    Messers Frost and Eliot hold up pretty well, but I think I can do them one better. The music of Gershwin, with its uniquely American idiom, bursting with energy and optimism, perpetually young and fresh but also wise. He captures America’s humor, its rhythms, its places, and its history without obsessively dwelling on the past. His work with his brother Ira is a great artistic tandem and the songs are wonderful reflections on our desires and relationships.

  11. As a European, here are some of the “gifts” I see America has given the world. Not all loved, maybe, but there’s so much more than even the great Frost, Eliot and Gershwin.

    Walt Whitman. John Dos Passos. Kurt Vonnegut. Rock and roll. Bob Dylan. The planes, the Boeing 707 in particular. The shuttle. The film stars, Natalie Wood, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Fred Astaire. Frank Sinatra. The X-Files. The movies and the movie directors: Robert Altman, Elia Kazan, Sydney Pollack. And even: Levi Strauss, CNN, Madonna, Simon and Garfunkel, fast food, soft drinks, time management….

  12. When Mohandas Gandhi visited Britain prior to India gaining independence it is said that a British newspaper reporter interviewed him and one of the questions he asked Gandhi was what he thought about British democracy. Gandhi is reputed to have responded that “Democracy would be nice.” Given that the US adopted the same class based faux system of democracy from the British whilst thinking or pretending to do otherwise it is best to regard American military adventures abroad as being class-based imperialism like the British. Sure the elites don’t stop to directly run the country these days but having established the ripeness for exploitation by American business why should they stay having cloned another faux democracy. American military adventures these days are confined to invasions of non-nuclear countries where the sociopaths running them are refusing to do business with our sociopaths because of some extreme religious, political or egoistic mind-set. It isn’t necessary to do a military invasion where a country’s elite cooperate with the exploitation. Indeed for America’s business elite they prefer political and theocratic totalitarian regimes because they keep their people suppressed and therefore the externalities involved in doing business under control. Look how eager they are to set up joint ventures with the Chinese Commies despite all the rhetoric and Americans who died fighting them in the past! If only Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the North Koreans would wake up and smell the coffee like the Chinese Commies! These arguments concerning American true intent aren’t new but it’s worth reminding ourselves of them as we see the democratic tokenist Obama trying to justify spending money America can now ill afford on military expansion in Afghanistan.

  13. Funny, but everything is controversial now, even some overpaid Sports Lothario wrecking his own blinged-out SUV in his own driveway because his trophy wife took a nine iron to him. Ho Ho Ho. This is what happens when Bread and Circuses come to town as a means to distract from the amateur criminal syndicate that has rented the place for a song. This is what happens when a people decide their act of voting only requires a 40% turnout level or a 90% television viewing audience. This is what happens when the definition of an “elite” is simply financial and has nothing whatsoever to do with intelligence or meaningful produce. The other day, I saw one of the tired old “20 Greatest Americans of 2009” lists and on it were the same titans of media, entertainment and commerce that has run this sideshow like a budget carnival for the full employment of carnies for coming up on 80 years now.

    Controversy is a fine little spectator sport for the trembling masses, comforted by the fact that somebody else’s life is somehow more miserable than their own or that somebody is about to be publicly ruined….or better yet, that some form of titillating fantasy can be exploited to a fair-thee-well.

    There is nothing controversial in politics any longer because, well, that would be like calling a mugging controversial instead of what it is, petty theft executed by a thug on a public street.

    So, fear not , controversy is the new normal.

  14. I’m trying to find a consistent set of principles here, which can be applied in a rational way to the real world. I feel like I’m getting lost in a maze every time I try. I really appreciate the observation that the poems of Robert Frost, read in translation by someone who knows the language, are a hit in Afghanistan. It is little subtleties like that which are going to make or break whether we are viewed as anything but one more army of occupation.

    The rhetoric of democracy has been used in many ways for many purposes. Nothing can be gained by lumping it all together. Woodrow Wilson talked about “making the world safe for democracy,” but he privately and subsequently admitted “this was a commercial and industrial war,” fought because the House of Morgan might go bankrupt if France and Britain lost to Germany. That means, incidentally, that Eugene Debs, the left wing of the Socialist Party of America, and the Industrial Workers of the World, were absolutely right about the war — which anyone trying to remake American foreign policy might want to consider, even if the vision is a federal republic, not a cooperative commonwealth.

    The USA did not export democracy to Guatemala in 1954, nor to Iran in 1953, nor to Vietnam in 1956. We aren’t supporting democratic elections in Egypt right now, because at least the dictator in charge is a partner of convenience to our intelligence agencies. We saw what happened when W. pushed free elections on the Palestinian Authority — Hamas won, hands down. The real engine of Islamic exclusivism is Saudi Arabia, building mosques all over the world among peoples who have had their own brand of Islam for many generations, thank you, and didn’t really need to be realigned by oil money. But Saudi Arabia is our ally, because we need their oil.

    Now I may not be arriving at any more of a neat little solution, but I’m just trying to illuminate what a tangled mess we are in. We should have declared “Mission Accomplished” in Afghanistan in 2003, without ever invading Iraq, and let our victorious allies who had done most of the fighting on the ground up to that point do what they could with their country. OK, we kicked Osama’s butt, and now we’re going home. But now, we have to worry what happens to a nuclear armed Pakistan if we pull out.

    We did, sort of, make democracy fashionable, sometimes even made it look desirable, but we haven’t ever practiced it consistently. So, yeah, let’s stop pretending, and let’s establish a loose defense perimeter and reasonable alliances, and stop bleeding the world. But, to do that, we have to be prepared to sell our fellow citizens on the notion that we can do without Saudi oil, keep our air and water clean, grow some food locally, rebuild our infrastructure so we can still go visit Aunt Mabel for Thanksgiving…

  15. Oh, brother.

    The essay is rather questionable, and the comments, by and large…oh dear.

    Gershwin? Simon and Garfunkle? BOB FROST?!(To quote Jarmusch’s Down By Law) These may be “a few of my favorite things” (albeit each is pretty way far down the list for yours truly–maybe Wilson wil get me to love Bob more, tho), but COME ON! We ain’t making Christmas wish lists here. We ain’t characters in a Woody Allen movie. We’re talkin’ about the U.S. withdrawing from the world, we’re talkin’ about the fact that many folks like Richard Wall would very likely still be behind one had the U.S not rejected in the 40s and 50s the sort of isolationism associated with the oh-so-wise guys of American Conservative, and here flirted with by Willson and Wilson.

    Yes, the last paragraph is beautiful. But there would have nothing beautiful for the Iraqis if George W. had not stuck it out and done the surge, which I’m fairly sure all you wise ones here were against. And there will be nothing beautiful about the Iranian bomb. And no beauty of self-restraint is going to help us decide, if we come to a place where we have to decide, whether we can, by means of a little extra effort, prod the Afghanis toward a more liberalized government or whether we have to let an autocratic government be good enough for them. That is going to be a painful choice if it comes. Our President will find zero guidance here for making it.

    Over on No Left Turns, and Pomocon, you can find me worrying big-time about Obama’s decision in Afghanistan, even trying to get my fellow non-isolationist conservatives to at least entertain the idea of joining any Dem-peace-nik vote against the funding for the war in Congress, on the basis of assuming that Obama’s heart isn’t in the thing, so it’s better to get out entirely. I’m not for wars per se, but I might be for wars that serve vital U.S. interests that we can win. (On NLT, scroll down to the “Ariel” post)

    Let me quote one of the thinkers Pomocon puts on its main-page, James Ceaser: “The American military hierarchy has also done a great deal to promote the cause of democracy in the world. Two of the world’s leading democracies–West Germany and Japan–were forged under American military occupation, and the American military has served as the principal defensive shield for many democratic nations(that’s you, Mr. Wall). …Finally, being a world power has imparted a seriousness to American national political life that has helped check against a politics focused solely on physical or psychic gratification. It is no longer possible to say that the nation’s business is business.” (Liberal Democracy and Political Science, p. 126–and it’s a must-read book, everyone.)

    Well, it hasn’t imparted seriousness to some of y’all, but Mr. Obama finally had to get serious this week, as eventually every President does. He had to choose. He couldn’t wash his or our hands of responsibility with ugly old talk corporate-sponsored wars and with beautiful FPR talk of self-limitation.

    P.S. If Bob Dylan were forced to choose between his collective works being utterly erased and forgotten a millenium from now, or the U.S. Declaration and Constitution suffering the same fate, he’d choose to lose the former, without a second’s flinching. Ditto for most of the geniuses y’all list here, insofar as they had/have a bit of political sense to go with their genius. Probably only Madonna would fail that test. Dance with the likes of her, Mr. Polet, all you wish.

  16. The Eight Beatitudes of Carl Scott for moral and political responsibility:

    Blessed are the Military-Industrial Empires, for they will be morally serious.
    Blessed are the surge-makers, for they shall cause us to forget the initial invasion.
    Blessed are Germans, for with them democracy shall never be secularized, socialized, and guilt-ridden.
    Blessed are the Japanese, for they shall reap the plenty of far flung U.S. military presences.
    Blessed are the fearmongers, for they shall (force us to) inherit the preemptive war.
    Blessed are the Neo-cons, for they shall rob conservatism of what is left of its integrity.
    Blessed are the Pomocons, for they shall vindicate ESPN and Starbucks from moral scrutiny.
    Blessed be Obama, for he has learned to step up the drone attacks.

  17. I might be for wars that serve vital U.S. interests that we can win.

    What might those interests be, and what makes them vital? And how do Iraq and Afg serve those interests?

  18. Golly, Scott, tell us what a “non-isolationist conservative” is. Did you mean to say “progressive?” Did you mean “interventionist?” Did you mean, I really can’t think what. If “conservative” is reduced to conserving the last Wilsonian pipe dream we need to consult Lewis Carroll or Orwell.

  19. Hey, there, Willson, let’s be careful when decrying Wilsonian pipe dreams. For instance, I once dreamed that America defended its interests by keeping its enemies out and keeping its people safe. I also once dreamed that conservatism had something left to conserve.

  20. One of my favorite things about the Neo-Conservatives and their fellow travelers the POMOCONS is that they were obviously sprung as if by Immaculate Perception, more adult than the rest of the world and always ready to employ another round of democracy at gunpoint, as if any people, no matter their location, have ever enjoyed an invading country’s bastards over their very own homegrown ones.

    As to the referenced quote :

    “Finally, being a world power has imparted a seriousness to American National Political Life that has helped check against a politics focused solely on physical or psychic gratification”

    Do Tell. One might have actually gotten away with this kind of thinking 50 years ago . It utterly vanished at least 20 years ago. Somebody should inform Mr. Scott that things have changed for the worse in Foggy Bottom and some of the biggest change-agents involved have been the Triumphant Neo-Cons and their swooning adoration of debt spending.

    and:

    “It is no longer possible to say that the nation’s business is business”

    Aside from the essential fact that the leadership of the lapsed Republic gave up the clarity of business-like thinking some time ago, exactly what might be wrong with “business” and how might it be a pejorative when compared against whatever other wooly-headed Nation Building Crock that preoccupies the Beltway Mature Thinkers now?

    I find it interesting that anyone who might have seen Afghanistan wring the last drops of blood out of the Soviets…after sending the Brits packing before that….but, exactly who in their right mind thinks it prudent to assume responsibility for that rock on the Hindu Kush and decide to think it their job to “let” Afghanistan do anything?

    Lastly, The neo-con, our big strapping energetic adult thinkers who hold the fate of the world in their big strong hands and cry “isolationism” anytime someone questions the efficacy of spending millions to further destroy a nation as primitive and tribal as Afghanistan (just so there is no confusion, I am not using those words exclusively as a pejorative)..but somebody ought should tell the glorious succubus that pretty soon, the lapsed Republic itself will be a crumbling vestige as a result of Empire Fixations and then the most august and mature Neo-Con can finally break down and be a tad concerned about their own Gawd Damned Country , instead of every other hellish sink hole productive of arms trade on this thoroughly militant planet. “Isolationism” …wow.

    Isolationism, Mr. Scott, runs both ways and right now, the Neo Con would have us believe it doesn’t. Truth be told, the serial boondoggles of the Neo-Conservative-inspired Nation Builders are effectively ruining any chance of an effective American Contribution to a bonafide productive endeavor in the future because they steadfastly refuse to admit that their philosophy, when compared against the philosophy expounded by the Framers is clearly “counter-revolutionary” and furthermore, that the Iraqi Invasion was quite possibly one of the dumbest events since the Athenian assault upon Sicily. But go ahead with your big strong minds and best intentions, keep lathering on the leaches in the Global Sanguinary Crusade….”lock and load” he said, as he read his lines in the teleprompter and deftly held aloft his teacup, pinky extended. You folks remind me of the cheerful hordes who ventured out to see the Federal forces whip the rebels, only to have their picnic ruffled by “unforeseen developments”.

    Keep warbling though, I do so love to hear all this talk of conquest expounded by mature and sober minds.

  21. WOODROW, James Matthew, WOODROW! Your dreams are great! When all you Wilsons want to spell your name wrong I just can’t help mixing you up.

  22. Well there’s the strawmen Carl Scott and Jim Ceaser, who are just as unconcerned as can be about American culture and life being dominated by ESPN, Starbucks, corporations, and then there’s the real thing. But I enjoyed your enjoying your zingers.

    More seriously, what part of MIGHT BE FOR do y’all not understand?

    Yes, if FDR in 1936, or 37, or even 38 had somehow arranged to get the French to push, with ample U.S. troop support, Hitler’s weak forces out of the Rhineland, and had I been alive then, I might well have been for that essentially pre-emptive war. Had FDR had said, “this does not involve a permanently entangling alliance, and it is in U.S. interests to support a European balance of power, especially when we’re making sure it doesn’t tip in the favor of a racist despot,” I might have understood this pretty simply, and not troubled my head much about distinguishing U.S. interests and the interests of the American people. WWII was a heroic time for us, but would that FDR and other democratic statesmen had spared us from it! I’m pretty sure it’s in the interests of, say, Kentucky farmers, not to have to send their sons against Panzers in Normandy lest the world be taken over by a butchering maniac. Pretty sure it would have been in their interest for many many many fewer of those sons to have fought in Rhineland instead, against inferior German forces and equipment.

    Sabin is right that isolationism is a tricky term–maybe more on this later.

    Caleb, I remain on the fence for the Afghan war, at least as its aims are currently articulated by our President. The 18-month deadline and Obama’s committment in general worries me greatly–denials aside, the whiff of LBJ-McNamara really is in the air, (although Johnson’s genuine opposition to communism shouldn’t be compared to Obama’s weasley advocacy of the Afghan war during the campaign.) See my NLT comments in the Ariel post there.

    As for Iraq, well, Bush was right on the two key decisions, despite errors of implementation, and despite the misleading Fukuyaman kick he would get into in certain “second innagural moments.” (You know–statements like “with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in the world”) If you remain befuddled, Caleb, why any sober person could think those decisions defended vital U.S. interets, we could dialog more.

    Porchers do need to think more about these issues, lest they let the likes of American Conservative or Noam Chomsky define their foreign policy principles. “Not-Bush” does not a foreign policy make.

    More later perhaps, but I leave flinging my own Biblical zinger: J.M. Wilson, Jesus said the poor will always be with us. Would he have said that tyrants will always be with us? That tax-collectors, prostitutes, greedy money-makers, and their like will always be with us? That, –gasp– war will always be with us? I do think he would have.

  23. Much to my surprise, I partially agree with Carl Scott. Much to his surprise, if he reads my essay, he will see that is the case. But I write, “and so, third, we might consider how appalling it is that the U.S. military has permanent bases located across the globe. I understand the strategic practicality of those bases. What I do not understand is how we can accept them as a permanent feature of our foreign policy.” That sounds like your dreamy FDR to me (as opposed to the real one).

    I do indeed believe war will always be with us, and there’s no gasps about it. Mine was no utopian proposal, save that it would require a reversal of certain long-held trends in the libido of American Splendor. My proposal is that we fight in real defense of the homeland; that we demonstrably act according to that principle of defense by keeping our military at home and our enemies out; that we replace the strategy of global reach and positioning with the strategy of, as it were, domestic perimeter.

    I believe, Carl Scott, that I have come across comments of yours before; I’m not sure. But it seems here that you’ve made my essay into far more a strawman than I made of your comments. Most of your response to my new Beatitudes merely confirmed the rub of their mockery; most of your commentary on my writing shows that you have read it through a haze of presumption. You do get one thing right, however; The American Conservative routinely expresses a foreign policy that would much improve upon that of the distant and recent past.

  24. Ahhh, here we go with the “Not Bush” strawman. Though it is a pleasant prospect that we do not now have him in the office of the Executive….any of that arrogant crew of Bureaucratic lifers to be precise….. but why is it Mr. Scott, that those who cast the gauntlet of “Straw Men” down always seem to be accompanied by a veritable parade of Straw Men…a kind of constant Greek Chorus of over-arching distraction?

    Some amongst the so called “Porchers”….as though it were an edifice…or even a shed…but some might disagree with the preternatural compulsions of the Neo-Conservative to go on A-Crusading across the world with some kind of blithe confidence that Democracy will always end well everywhere……but this does not mean that it automatically puts us in the position of acolyte to Chomsky…even if we might find unsettling areas of agreement with him on occasion. Simply put, the Neo-Conservative , our hoary adult thinkers seem to consider political expression to be some kind of simple-minded team sport, a kind of Junior Varsity Boosterism.

    As to Iraq, the prognosis is far from over and the shroud of blunder, propaganda, outright lies, baksheesh, death, torture and destruction surrounding that escapade will make it impossible to achieve a detached understanding of its merits until well after our lifetimes. The Noble Lie has been proven to have its limitations once again.

    That said, I would like to see your slant on the subject of isolationism because my attempts at a well-formed view have only reached a state of disjointedness at this juncture.

    As to “what Jesus might say”…the statement that the poor will always be with us would seem to make superfluous any further statement regarding those agents of greed and power who thrive on maintaining conditions consequential to poverty for their own reasons.

  25. After the greed and corruption amongst politicians and businessmen in government and Wall Street which gave us the Financial Crash it is particularly mind-boggling to see Barack Obama clinging onto the idea that American democracy is the Real Thing and needs to be inserted by force into countries like Afghanistan. For me there is something bizarre about a mind-set that cannot see the faux, or seriously imperfect, nature of America’s democracy. But then I realize one of the little emphasized aspects of Obama’s background is that he was raised by wealthy grand-parents (his grand-mother was a bank vice-president) and all the narrow mind-set that comes along with making wealth and hanging on to it. Carl Scott in his post above is clinging to the past and fails to understand that thinking has now moved on. It was one thing to intervene in world wars and defend faux democracies against totalitarian ideologies but we are better educated now and want better democracies. Amazingly we can actually perceive that the Invisible Hand is not consistently a helping hand but often a grabbing hand that works against the common good. Here is the economist Robert H. Frank explaining this better than I can:-

    http://www.robert-h-frank.com/PDFs/EV.07.12.09.pdf

    As Robert Frank says “Ideas have Consequences” and for America to waste lives and huge amounts of money in places like Afghanistan and Iraq for half-baked ideas about democracy is something that ought to be openly debated but ruling elite mind-sets such as Obama’s deny. If Obama is the democrat he pretends to be why would he not have opened out the debate on extra military expenditure and troop commitments to Afghanistan? If the Swiss can have a referendum on minarets for goodness sake why can’t the American people have a referendum on military adventurism in a situation where imminent attack on the United States is not an issue. Change you can believe in has very rapidly turned into arrogance you should believe in!

  26. Longer than long, but I’ve been thinking. What follows is a specific point in agreement with James, a taxonomy of the possible U.S. foreign-policy positions now and an initial discussion of which best fits the Porch, and finally, a rant against Porch-tone on foreign policy topics.

    ************************************************************************

    I do not deny, nor does Ceaser, that the massive U.S. role overseas does not come without massive costs. Would it be in U.S. interests if there were other great nations on the world stage that would share our overall inclinations, interests at the global level, and basic trustworthiness, that we could share our burdens with? Say, down the line, India? Or, a truly Unified EU? Brazil? Maybe a politically altered France, Russia, or even China? Or, nearer in time, a rejuvenated NATO? Of course it would be.

    So James, you are right that we must keep in mind the goal of withdrawing from certain “practically necessary” bases, positions, and commitments, so as to hand them over to others we can trust them with. Becoming less of the Indispensable Nation by getting other nations to strengthen themselves (while still remaining the strongest) is a much more doable long-term goal than ridding the world of tyranny or nuclear weapons.

    This is one of the many reasons I so oppose proposals to put Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. They are in the Russian sphere of influence, and we cannot be the who-ya-gonna-call guy everywhere. Moreover, the Europeans need to know that we are only so reliable. International engagement is not our religion. We are not a bank. You prick us, we bleed; you continually denounce us, we may well come to hate you. Let the Europeans understand that we are not unconditionally committed to keeping them dominated by Russian power, particularly if they refuse to take actions to defend themselves, and if they hinder our efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation and Islamist terrorism. That is, the now-widespread belief in Europe that civilization has entered a stage where war is unnecessary, to be replaced by nation-integrating international law, is an incorrect belief. The belief of a U.S. security-junkie. Europeans need to know: we might leave. We are not as bank-ably reliable as you might think. In a bizarre unintended way, Obama’s hopefully one-term administration is going to underline that point.

    1) My own stance can be called “justice-bound realism” that in an inherently globalized era is “non-isolationist” and “provisionally committed to hegemony.” Call it Republican Realism for shorthand, or Scoop Jackson Realism if you’re in a bipartisan mood. It is Washington and Hamilton modernized. As applied in a post 9-11 world, it is by and large the stance expressed in Bush’s sober 2002 National Security Strategy, the sobriety of which was lost in Bush’s 2nd Inaugural. Neo-conservativism of the 2nd Inaugural variety, i.e. the Wilsonian-Fukuyaman variety, exemplified by William Kristol, has been rightly criticized, and I think most deftly by my sort of justice-bound non-isolationist realists, such as Charles Kesler of the Claremont Review of Books. (And this stance, as articulated by Kesler and others, tends to be the stance of most of the Pomocon folk.)

    And then of course, there is the mythical neo-con bogeyman, who wants to spread democracy by force and by lies everywhere, that so many Americans have come to so ignorantly talk of. But since the stance of this bogeyman is not one that anyone actually holds, it is useless to discuss.

    What are the other possible stances in our day?

    2), I’ve already mentioned, 2nd Inaugural Neoconservatism.

    3) Progressivist Internationalism. This is basically Obama…and it comes in different flavors according to a) how quickly and b) how far its espousers want to get the U.S. integrated into an ever-more integrating international law system. For now, U.S. politicians have to be very coy about saying they are for this. Yes, many of the Demmi Internationalists are less Carter-esquely soft/foolish than Obama is, since they are educated enough to know what diplomacy consists of. But that’s incidental, since the aim is the same. And some say the U.S. will remain the indispensable lead nation in any construction of an intl law system, but the logic’s push is that in all but extraordinary circumstances, the rest of the world, or the EU/NGO approved portions of it, gets to de facto vote on whether we use our armed forces or not.

    4) America-first restraint-ism or “Isolationism.” Isolationism in economic and cultural terms is nearly impossible, and has seldom if ever been advocated by American political leaders, not even by the more minor ones. (And James, while I’m not certain what “autarky” looks like for you, going by the dictionary def. I’d say it’s both impossible and undesirable.) The isolationist creed advocated by many of both parties of the 20s and 30s, in which we trade massively but keep our troops to our sphere, was to my mind never that coherent, and seems mainly shaped by particular concerns and miscalculations unique to those two decades.

    4a) P. Buchanan and his American Conservative retrospectively gives this isolationism more coherence than I think it really had, and ties it to its brand of paleoconservatism. And, with Pat at least, this requires radically misreading and rewriting WWII. It’s worth noting that Burke wouldn’t have done that.
    4b) From time to time, currents from anti-anti-communist American peace-nikism and others from old populist/Democratic Socialist domestic economy War on Poverty concerns seem to coalesce to potentially create a lefty, but pretty damn statist, America first-ism. It never flies except as rhetoric, and its statist angle cannot be welcomed by Porchers.
    So, 4c) might be the Porcher version of this. Take the populist and peacenik ire without the “invest the peace-dividends in government do-good agencies” hogwash. Take Buchanan shorn of his more red-meat conservative, paleo and questionable aspects.

    To my mind, a Porcher could endorse 1) or 4c). I would of course argue that 1) is best, and that 4c) appeals more to Porcher sentiment than to the necessary thinking. But either would make sense for a Porcher, right?
    2 and 3 are simply too cosmopolitan in focus and spirit. Now, for the Dem-leaning Porchers, we might imagine that a position 3b) exists, wherein internationalist governance occurs on security, basic human rights, economy, trade, etc., but where a 100 flowers are left to bloom locally. As Pat’s posts on Germany illustrate, given certain Euro-rural cultural inheritances and assuming Porcher political pressures on the domestic front across the whole integratin’ super-polity, this is not inconceivable. Some way of reigning in the economistic/progressivistic EU-spirit that sees EVERYTHING as potentially effecting fair trade, and EVERYTHING as relating to human rights, animal rights, earth rights, etc., would have to be found, however. So, 3b) envisions a world where war is negociated out of existence, i.e, largely relegated to a few Kaplan-esque wastelands, while domestically, guys like Leon Krier and Prince Charles can impose Berryville-sized and Gary Snyder-spirited public entities by means of town-planning, and then let the people in these provided townships govern themselves in the policy space left to them. In this federated world integration of governance, Kentucky and even its counties might conceivably become important again in a way they never could in the U.S.A. On certain issues, the EU integration really has given certain ethnic minorities and certain towns more apparent power than they had before.

    I’d be curious to hear which foreign-policy position appeals most to y’all.

    ***********************************************************************

    Now for the rant. The leftist M. Walzer once excoriated his fellow lefties post-9/11 for not being able to even talk as if they could govern and defend the nation if they ever were put in power over it.

    In his essay James says he understands the practical value of those overseas bases, but he also says things like this:

    “President Bush declared that the United States’ sorry legacy of manipulating weak and semi-sovereign states for benefit of its power and business interests would end. The deaths and coups his father had either overseen or ignored while head of the CIA would cease.” [by James’ telling, this implicit promise is of course broken]

    “The chief difference between this second Bush administration and the Kerry administration that was not to be is that the former is unapologetic about using military power in support of American corporate interests.”

    “It allows, moreover, Americans at home to believe that their daily lives—the products they import, the gas they burn, the debt they accumulate or allow their government to accumulate almost beyond measure—do not implicate them in state terror abroad.”

    Well, if U.S. for policy is REALLY all decided and dominated by Spirit-of-1954-CIA cabals and by the imposition of American corporate interests, and basically just results in “state terror” that all Americans and their lifestyles are secretly implicated in, then, well, it’s time to break open the Immanuel Wallerstein and the other hoary old Marxisant theorists and chuck out all of the above stances, because no remotely just foreign policy could be chosen by we ignorant/compromised cogs-with-a-vote in this System.

    I hesitate to say the following, but here goes: if I heard tomorrow, James, that Obama had appointed you to be on some foreign policy consulting team, I’d join in with all the inevitable talk-radio conservatives opposing your appointment and say, “here’s a guy who seems to hate America-as-it-is, who misjudges America-as-it-is, who thinks the American system will remain hopeless without a change so radical as to be revolutionary. WHERE is his evidence whereby to paint so many Americans and their leaders by such dark colors? That’s right, it’s only found and validated in conspiratorial theories A, B, C, and D. The man is out of touch with reality.”

    Sorry James, that’s what I’d say. Until evidence emerges of your sobriety in foreign affairs and of your willingness to restrain your critiques of your fellow citizens’ and public servants’ choices, that’s where I’d have to stand. American foreign policy of the last 50 years cannot be fairly characterized as “using military power in support of American corporate interests.”

    I heard Michael Savage a couple nights ago (hey, cut me some slack, I have a long commute!) say Obama’s support for the Afghan war is determined by his being in bed with the military-industrial complex. You agree with that James? If not, do you agree with me about how destructive the spirit behind such conspiracy theorizing is? How it totally shuts down the possibility of civic discourse?

    To depart exit stage left, however, I’d say, just as M. Walzer lamented about his fellow democratic socialists, that a lot of you Porchers seem incapable of talking about American foreign policy in a manner that would give its citizens confidence in your trustworthiness in actually running it.

  27. Mr. Scott, it strikes me that “Jihad” has added another factor in the foreign policy equation. I may be a traditional, stay-at-home, trade with all, treaty with none paleo but I am aware that the rise of Islam has a profound effect on relations between nations. My question for you is, how should it be addressed?

    Also, I’m not so quick to disparage all “conspiracy theories.” For example, Oklahoma City TV journalist Jayna Davis’s book, The Third Terrorist, provides a factual analysis, bolstered by sworn testimony, of the Murrah Federal Bldg. bombing far superior to the gummint’s amusing findings of fact and conclusions of law.

    Another example would be evidence, including film evidence, that indicates the United States gummint participated in the planned massacre of over one hundred citizens at the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco, Texas.

    Labeling an anti-gummint position a “conspiracy theory” is of course one method in marginalizing gummint critics and curtailing any further analysis of an event whose findings might place the gummint in an embarrassing or illegal position.

  28. Who is this “we” you keep talking about Carl? Would that be “We the People?” Given the news that is coming out of the Chilcot Inquiry in London that both Bush and Blair seriously misled everybody over the reasons for going to war in Iraq do you not think its time that non-emergency decisions for military adventurism are made more democratic? I’m sure that I’m not the only one to notice that Obama’s consultative mode with the public suddenly got switched off when it came to considering what to do about the failing military operation in Afghanistan. Could that possibly have something to do at the minimum with the notion that War on Terrorism Wimps don’t get re-elected (Reference the Republican Party strategist’s belief George Bush Senior’s re-election humiliation was caused by Saddam Hussein’s chicken taunts). Wouldn’t a more democratic decision get everybody off the hook and stop politicians playing with human lives to secure and maintain power? After the Financial Crash the neo-liberal stilted ideology that “choice” should be confined to the marketplace and not allowed in public and social forums ought to be dying but the closet elitist Obama seems intent on giving it new life.

  29. Bob, for my least favorite of decades, the 1990s, your paleo-stance of trade and don’t entangle perhaps made some sense. But I interpret Washington’s (and Hamilton’s–he was the co-writer) famous “no overseas entanglements” maxim as somewhat time-provisional, which means that given modern navies, air-forces, transnational ideologies like commumism, economic interconnection, and then, nuclear weapons and terrorism, that realism has a strong case to make for a) using alliances to maintain a balance of powers, or, when possible, an imbalanced amount of U.S. power (with a wary eye kept on the degree of imbalance) for b) containing/eventually defeating anything like communism, and c)hampering/disrupting Islamist terrorist plans or similar “gathering threats,” d) limiting the proliferation of WMD. That realism may flinch from NATO at present, but certainly not from the original use of NATO, nor from “coalitions of the willing.” So I don’t think your paleo stance is realistic from 1933-1991 or 2001-present, and I’m not so sure that Wilson wasn’t right about our interest in joining the Allies in 1917, even if he brought all his bad blather into it.

    James, I really would be interested to hear your thoughts, but don’t feel obliged…I got obsessive writing that long essay-comment and I know everyone’s getting swamped right now.

  30. Carl, I think I can make at least an adequate response to your substantive outline of American foreign policy options. I’m hestitant to respond so briefly, since in so doing, I’m inevitably going to be neglecting several elements in your argument and, moreover, I’ll be substituting brief assertion for sustained argument — usually an unfortunate practice. But let me reply in brief.

    To take last things first, I think I can safely ignore your heartfelt concerns about the likelihood of my confirmation in the Senate. Such an improbable scenario is worth speculating on only for reasons quite secondary to those of my essay — so far, at least, as I am concerned.

    But your broader point expressed in that scenario suggests to me you have quite understandably misread my account of the history of American foreign policy as part of an understanding of politics in general that, more or less, I do not share. While I find certain insights of Marxist and post-Marxist critics of American policy persuasive, I would resist the attempts most of the make — and which you seem to see me making — to reduce my analysis of American foreign policy to a cabal of financiers. That said, of course, there have been no shortage of advocates of American hegemony — you are one of them. Why, when I critique this impulse, which has been so explicitly on display for so many decades, but most recently in the pages of neoconservative periodicals, am I suddenly implicated in the theorization of conspiracies?

    My argument — which is not fleshed out fully in this essay, but is elsewhere so developed, above all in the essays I cited above — runs roughly thus: the expansive network of trade and the internationalism of nominally American corporations, is the cause of the cheap consumer goods,cheap energy, and the availability of credit, to which most Americans are accustomed. If they want these latter things then, at minimum, they must implicitly sign up for the kind of massive interventionist military we presently have.

    In this respect, my critique is aimed more at the neo-liberals, who think that one can have global economic integration without a globalized hegemonic military making the world, as it were, predictable enough for safe investment. Rather, if you want the kind of economy we presently have, and the kind of consumer economy we presently have, then you had best pay your respects to the U.S. as the world’s policeman. Thus, when I write, “The chief difference between this second Bush administration and the Kerry administration that was not to be is that the former is unapologetic about using military power in support of American corporate interests,” one misses my emphasis if one thinks it is on “using military power” rather than on “unapologetic.” More on this anon.

    In brief, I do not see a conspiracy, nor do I share Bruce Smith’s intrinsically Marxist, class-based account of history. I see our economic structure, precisely because of its far flung integration with foreign industry, foreign resources, and foreign states, as necessitating our familiar and routine projection of military force.

    This leads us to two of your points. You provide an account of the paleoconservative position as incoherent: free trade without “empire-like” military intervention is impossible, and the paleos, insofar as they advocate such a thing, are issuing incoherent policy. I agree. That is why my policy is, in converse, coherent.

    If we do not wish to engage routinely in wars akin to that in Iraq, we should not allow ourselves to engage in the kind of flattened, globalized ecnomic system that we, in fact, have brought fully into being during the last half century. If we do not wish to participate in and contribute to that economic system, then we should frankly acknowledge that we are going to have to build up as much as possible a secure, self-sustaining economic system — one that aspires to, in brief, awtarky.

    So, I might well agree with your historical account of the paleoconservative position (I would actually critique several points within it, but less that pass), but I would say that rendering that position coherent improves it. Corrollary to that, I reject out of hand your parenthetical dismissal of autarchy.

    But that dismissal explains a lot. I agree that, if our only option were for the globalized corporate economic system we now have, then our only foreign policy practice ought to resemble very closely what we have had lo these many years. Moreover, I sympathize with the practice of W. Bush of rendering the assertion of American military force as a frank proclamation of American hegemony. I find that practice — “unapologetic” — more honest than the blood gauze of neo-liberal theory.

    I do not believe this is our only option, because I see no reason that the United States as a whole, indeed the States independently, could not aspire to the kind of self-reliance and self-sustaining economic life I describe as awtarky. Why would we do this? Because I believe we would be in some respects poorer and more modest in our way of living in the world (I don’t mean modest to China, I mean to live modestly or frugally). Communal frugality and awtarky are themselves among the list of virtues constitutive of a happy life. We would be poorer in some respects, but happier over all. I believe this sense of moral self-reliance comports well with the instinctual morality of most Americans; we want to be independent of foreign entanglements, and to live within our own means (rather than what become our means, when we become the hired mercenary of the world), and so I am setting forth the propositions that necessarily follow from that. What I suspect you take me to be setting forth is a compound of neo-liberal utopian programs for perpetual peace — a program in which I have never believed and to which I have replied in the essay “Where Is Our Perpetual Peace?” on this site.

  31. Dr. Wilson, this exchange of ideas between you and Dr. Scott is one of the very best here at FPR. I trust the issues raised will be fully examined and discussed.

  32. James, Bob, my thanks.

    James, you are consistent. You want autarky, and the self-restraint (“isolationism”) that naturally goes with it. And it seems this must necessarily be W. Berry’s position from what I’ve read of him.

    Now I think the position is quite Quixotic, not to mention colder than I’d like towards the well-being of the rest of the world, but let’s give it it’s due, at least in the absract. Three main points, then.

    1) To be pro-autarky responsibly requires one to have a theory of how we get from here to there. How do we responsibly, democratically, etc., by and large unentangle our economy from the world’s? What are the in-between and transitional states of the economy that would have to be adopted and defended. Any by your theory that economic entanglement goes hand-in-hand with defense entanglement, what are the in-between states foreign policy wise?

    2) Isn’t it possible that even if you could disentangle economically, you couldn’t do so entirely defense-wise? The question becomes, how could the U.S. be like a super-Switzerland, with that prickly and spirited ability to defend itself if push comes to shove, in the 21st century and beyond? I would argue that you’d still need, a) nukes and the missles to deliver them, b) overseas spying, c) the ability conventionally to hold even with at least the second-strongest military out there, d) the readiness to enter into coalitions of the willing, e) the ability science-wise to hold near-even with virtually any competitor nation, given the unforseeable pathways of WMD development.

    3) You say, “I see our economic structure, precisely because of its far flung integration with foreign industry, foreign resources, and foreign states, as necessitating our familiar and routine projection of military force.” Did our economic structure cause
    a) our joining WWI?
    b) our joining WWII?
    c) our defending S. Korea?
    d) our defending S. Vietnam?
    e) Cold War troop deployments in Europe? Cold War build-ups in many areas, including nukes?
    f) Gulf War?
    g) Afghan War?
    h) Iraq War?
    That is, wasn’t there a pretty seriously important non-structural efficient cause for each of these? I.e., reasonable worries about Imperial Germany, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, Intl. Communism, Islamist Terror, WMD Proliferation? Now maybe we could have cut a deal with the Hussein regime or Imperial Germany, but how could autarky ever keep us safe if a balance of power in the outside world fell to Nazi, communist, or Islamist forces?
    If autarkists have a deep theory for why all these wars are really due to economic structure, then by all means develop it and talk about that to the Amer. people. Say, “we are not arrogant Marxists or arrogant William Lloyd Garrison Christians who think we have an immediate plan to turn everything aright or who think we can charge you with a grievously hypocritical super-sin. We know you had your reasons for these various wars, that you generally fought them in good faith towards those reasons, and that you did not fight these wars, or become at times complacent about your military establishment, out of a desire to treat the world unfairly, let alone to drive SUVs fueled by the blood of suffering innocents. We’re just saying that we see a deeper reason shaping many of these wars and that we offer a deeper solution to the ongoing need to fight wars such as this. Can we interest you in our long-term plan for autarkist and restraintist transformation?”

    Not as fun, or should I say, not as morally bracing, as talking about U.S. “state terror” driven by corporate imperatives, is it?

    And so, a final thought: if at bottom, the average Porcher would be made unhappy by either a) the sober, politic-ly polite, and way-way long-shot advocacy of gradually becoming super-Switzerland, or by b) not denouncing, despite not having an alternative that one is actually working for, the non-long-shot foreign policy options of the present (see above) to the skies, then what does that say? I’d say that it says more ugly things and more beautiful things about the human soul than I can begin to express here, but on the practical level, the it poses perhaps the fundamental Porch problemo.

  33. Although I destest the very name of paleo-con, my late mentor and friend Mel Bradford was too much influenced by the Romans and the spirit of good sense ever to take the trek that many of the paleo’s have taken since Mel’s death in 93.

    Having seeing the nastiness of Kosovo on a trip to that part of Serbia before it blew up in early 99…. and watching it all unfold while in Slovakia safely away.. but close enough to meet victims.. my Burke that Mel (and Russell–whom I had a famous weekend trip to U Houston that was such a flop for poor organization and tom-foolery by an organizer–that the 2 UD’er I went with to be with Russell left him the half bottle of scotch we picked up the night before) taught me came to mind–with that misquote–that evil trumphs because good men do nothing…hit home.

    Does not power come with responsibility? Mel always taught that. And isn’t duty something traditional conservatives hold dear? As well as honor? That these trads have gotten in bed with the radical wacky anti-war left has forced me to question the voices of what remains of the old right today… they utterly lack that good sense the old right had on such issues, that one ought to resist evil, that in this world, fallen as it is, war might be a necessary way to save what little good there is.

  34. Reflecting on these posts it seems to me as a generalization that the human race is beset by two problems. Firstly, a slow reluctance to recognize, especially in complex societies, that social fabrics are always in constant danger of getting torn apart in any country by narrow sectional interests utilizing ideologies of power and property. Secondly, there is the added failure of understanding that the adaptive antidote to this is to continuously rethink the roles and relationships of representative and participative democracy in a wide range of activities.

  35. Carl,
    Thanks for the summary of your views.

    From my own addled and prideful view, I would be far more amenable to, at least a consideration of many of the things you seem to favor if the State that has subsumed the lapsed Republic did not place domestic concerns….or rather, a concern for the welfare of her own people and land, so far down the list of pressing interests. Parity would be a start but we are well below parity here.

    Sure, we have displayed a fine history of democratic assistance and aims in the world. We also possess some very checkered history in this regard, particularly in the Cold War and Post Cold War period. However, we ride too easily on the more positive aspects of our history and now think that Democracy at gunpoint and in occupation can produce anything but failure in the long run…. with deep hatreds to boot.

    I was hoping to see more of your take on “isolationsim” and how this is a two way street. While the paleo-con is tarred as an “isolationist”, the Pomo Con/ Neo-Con is championing an economic and political system which isolates the American Citizen from both their own government and the land they inhabit. The Middle Class is Exhibit One in the Course of Estrangement. A debilitated Industrial capacity is Exhibit Two. You crack that we “isolationists” want to be a “Super Switzerland” as though that is the automatic default of any opposition to your agenda. I want the United States of America to be the United States of America. Sure, we have to do this in the context of the cards we are dealt in our geo-political era but when we are forever off in search of monsters to destroy, a “Super Switzerland” becomes a pipe dream.

    One could perhaps say it is a phase we must pass through in order to meet the Empyrean Fields of Global Peace but I really doubt it. This aborning Globe is gearing up to be a last ditch fight between the haves and the have-nots and the American Citizen, like the under-developed citizens of the Globe we purportedly seek to “raise-up” are being lowered down, apace. Sure, our low may not be as low as those we may come to bring to heel but rest assured, it will be decidedly lower than it is now out of necessity.

    I am not an isolationist, I embrace a lot of the world and embrace it as it is, not as we would have it be in a hypothetical better incarnation as planned by a claque of bureaucrats who cannot even balance a budget, let alone plan a war and occupation of a primitive third world nation. We have history’s highest educated Military Brass at the helm of the World’s Mightiest Military and we are at war in a third World Country for eight years…whose corrupt government we inserted and now assert we will bypass to achieve a victory.

    Accordingly, I would turn your slander of “isolationist” squarely back upon the Neo-Con/Paleo-con globalist-modernist whose doctrinaire sense of superiority, matched with a bureaucratic definition of “pragmatism” has evolved into a text book definition of Piracy, the original isolated extra-nationalist: The global freebooter. At least the Pirate swashbuckled with honesty. This is admittedly a reductive caricature but the paleo-con receives the same dismissive cant from the Neo-Con in the form , primarily, of Strawmen.

    I too wish better things for all people but I cannot abide the idea of introducing them to our sense of “better things” from the bombay doors of a jet fighter nor can I easily swallow the culture of abandonment of our own people and land which the globalist project so defiantly displays while lecturing us all on how we must behave and get in line and let the adults make our decisions.

    Simply put, have you ever questioned yourself on why the Neo-Conservative, PomoCon agenda is so warcentric? And Furthermore, how much more in debt do we have to plunge to realize it? Does the irony register at all? War is a veritable font of perversion and chaos. Perhaps a few Mauldin cartoons with a side of Pogo might help you in attempting an understanding of this . At the very least, it would be prudent to question why there are no other countries willing to embark upon the Globalist Police role that we so heartily embrace.

    The United States of America was a Country established upon the principles of Checks and Balances as a counterweight to Mankind’s propensity toward mischief. We now pervert this system to perhaps defeat, across the the planet, the very notion of Checks and Balances as though a government can vanquish mankind’s manifest perversions. This is an Ideology of Isolationism.

  36. 3) You say, “I see our economic structure, precisely because of its far flung integration with foreign industry, foreign resources, and foreign states, as necessitating our familiar and routine projection of military force.” Did our economic structure cause
    a) our joining WWI?
    b) our joining WWII?
    c) our defending S. Korea?
    d) our defending S. Vietnam?
    e) Cold War troop deployments in Europe? Cold War build-ups in many areas, including nukes?
    f) Gulf War?
    g) Afghan War?
    h) Iraq War?
    That is, wasn’t there a pretty seriously important non-structural efficient cause for each of these? I.e., reasonable worries about Imperial Germany, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, Intl. Communism, Islamist Terror, WMD Proliferation?

    Woodrow Wilson openly admitted that WW I was “an industrial and commercial war.” J.P. Morgan convinced him that if France and Britain lost, they couldn’t repay his loans, and his bank would collapse, taking the American economy with it. All the rest was propaganda to whip up morale since we were going to get into the war.

    Just about everyone from the Communist Party (after June 1941) to Robert Taft agrees that World War II had essential attributes — we absolutely had to fight that war, considering who we were facing off with.

    South Korea — dubious. A unified Korea, under either a communist or noncommunist government, would have been much better than what the past fifty years have offered, although nobody in their right mind would want to be governed by the regime in Pyongyang today. In 1950, large numbers of South Koreans favored Kim Il Sung, and the division at the 38th parallel cut the industrially developed north, with the mineral resources, away from the agriculturally developed south. Getting into Korea was a tangled mess.

    Vietnam was a tragic farce. If we hadn’t been so mesmerized by anti-communism, Ho Chi Minh, and Mao for that matter, would rather have dealt with us than with Joe Stalin. Even after Truman spurned that option, eighty percent of the people wanted Ho Chi Minh, and we set up a contrived government, which generally sat back and waited us to fight the war and finance their extravagant lifestyles, since after all, the war was our idea. We and the whole world would have been so much better if we stayed out of that one.

    Gulf war was about oil and power, not freedom. As Ross Perot said, the first Gulf War got the Emir of Kuwait’s crystal palace back for him.

    Afghanistan — initially, we went in to nail the people that launched an attack on us. Just war doesn’t get much better than that. What we did afterward, Bush never defined, and Obama is still trying to figure out.

    So most, but not all, of these wars, we could have stayed out of if not for our far flung economic entanglements and imperials ambitions of certain politicians.

  37. Courtesy of Patrick Deneen’s post here is another Marxist provocatively suggesting that American Liberal Democracy is really Faux Democracy and Obama is a Bagman for the Banksters and other assorted oligarchs:-

    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/31234647/obamas_big_sellout/print

    The obvious purpose of the article is to point out that the American citizen should forget the idea that when you vote you are voting for someone to represent your interests. You are not. You are voting for a government that has already been captured for the purposes of prioritizing the representation of the financial interests of the few.

  38. As an aside to Jenkins, it is interesting to note that as Ho Chi Minh was fighting the French from the jungles, he often read documents from the Framers and Lincoln to his partisans. He had lived in Brooklyn N.Y. and worked as a “pearl diver” at a Restaurant sink and held no deep antipathy for the U.S…….until we thought it prudent to succeed the French.

  39. And furthermore, regarding the jab that we so called “porchers” are somehow “dem-porchers”….just today, in the August N.Y. Times, the “liberal” media’s Court “conservative” David Brooks spends several drams of ink to extoll the President ‘s recent lecture on the Just War Doctrine to the Nobel Prize Confab is an example of the return to the era of Christian Cold War Liberalism. He cited Scoop Jackson of Mr. Scott’s benediction as an exemplar of this kind of compassionate liberal philosophy. Funny how compassionate is always so close to war in this endless age of Just War At Large.

    I could be mistaken but it seems to me this here “Dem-Porcher” redoubt is not the most reliable supporter of the scribbler Mr. Brooks.

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