War and peace: some notes and links

I haven’t blogged directly on politics much over here, but this article by Andrew Bacevich in The American Conservative caught my eye. Bacevich takes on both the neoconservative proponents of the “surge” as well as the establishmentarian “wise men” of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group:

Almost without fail, media references to the Baker-Hamilton commission emphasize its bipartisan composition as if that alone were enough to win a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Yet to imagine that bipartisanship signifies wisdom or reflects a concern for the common good is to misunderstand the reality of present-day politics. The true purpose of bipartisanship is to protect the interests of the Washington Party, the conglomeration of politicians, hustlers, and bureaucrats who benefit from the concentration of wealth and power in the federal city. A “bipartisan” solution to any problem is one that produces marginal change while preserving or restoring the underlying status quo.

The status quo, shared by both groups, who pretty much dominate foreign policy discussions in the US is the assumption that America must continue to manage events in the Middle East:

When it comes to U.S. policy in the Middle East, neither the cavalier urgings of Frederick Kagan nor the confident reassurances of James Baker will provide the basis for defining a “way forward.” Despite superficial differences, their prescriptions point in the same direction: they will simply exacerbate our predicament. Further militarizing U.S. policy, always the first choice of neoconservatives, will only compound our dilemma; yet so too will deference to self-appointed Wise Men, who created that dilemma in the first place.

Neoconservatives like Kagan believe that the United States is called upon to remake the Middle East, bringing the light of freedom to a dark quarter of the world. Pseudo-realists like Baker believe that the United States can manipulate events in the Middle East, persuading others to do our bidding. Both views, rooted in the conviction that Providence has endowed America with a unique capacity to manage history, are pernicious.

And, as paleocon uber-blogger Daniel Larison points out, even Chuck Hagel, who’s been heralded by pundits left and right as a potential GOP “peace candidate” doesn’t repudiate interventionism as such. He’s more of an old-fashioned realist/internationalist (which, admittedly, would be preferable to what we’ve currently got). Plus, while I don’t share the paleocon antipathy to immigration, I agree that Hagel’s position there could hurt him with grass roots GOP voters, even ones disaffected with the Bush administration. He also isn’t much of a red-meat culture warrior, despite his fairly orthodox conservatism, and that would no doubt hurt him with the Religious Right types.

It remains to be seen what kinds of positions the (seemingly inumerable) Democratic candidates will take on the war issue. Michael Westmoreland-White of the Anabaptist blog Levellers notes a spectrum of proposals ranging from “capping” the number of troops in Iraq to withdrawal at various rates. But no one except the real fringe candidates (Kucinich on the left, Paul on the right) is talking about any kind of large-scale paradigm shift in US foreign policy. Most of the Democratic criticisms at this point simply hark back to the good ol’ days of multilateral hegemony and UN-approved bombings.

UPDATE: Ross Douthat at The American Scene makes a similar point, quoting David Brooks to the effect that the DC policy elite remains firmly entrenched in an interventionist outlook (he also cites this crazed Max Boot column to the same effect). However, Douthat also suggests that younger pundits and policy wonk-types (the elite of tomorrow) may be less sympathetic to bipartisan interventionism:

The Iraq War has, I think, made questioning the neoconservative/neoliberal consensus far more common among young, wet-behind-the-ears wannabe pundits than anyone would have expected four years ago. Maybe this is a temporary thing, maybe it’s just the narrow circles I move in. But when I look around the world of D.C. journalism, and the wider blogosphere, at the under-30 writers I respect, there seems to be a lot more sympathy for either libertarianism or paleoconservatism (or both together) among young conservatives, and McGovernish sentiments among young liberals, than there is for foreign-policy centrism of the kind that everyone from Boot to Ignatius subscribes to.

You’d like to think so. But then maybe our up-and-coming elites will “mautre” in office and “grow in stature” ultimately adopting the worldview of the elders. I mean, that’s what the New Left essentially did when it finally acheived instutional power isn’t it? The 60s radicals of yesteryear became, well … the Clintons.

5 thoughts on “War and peace: some notes and links

  1. It is nice to see a perspective like this in the blogosphere.

    Whatever the best option was before the war began, we did not have a very good bag from which to grab one. The bag gets worse and worse. It will require fundamental change to have better options. Interventionism is seen as a realist solution. But each “realistic” step only leads to future disasters that will need further bad solutions.

    After Gulf War I, we had Timothy McVeigh to contend with, who had done so much of his life’s killing before Oklahoma City. I have to wonder how many more of those have been created, as the war has gone on.

    I say this as one who believes that much of the superb work of soldiers goes unrecognized, especially by the media. There is a difference in how we do our interventionism versus most nations in the past. We build infrastructure that may make real differences in people’s lives. But those very real goods only make a bad solution more seductive.

    I hope that Ron Paul’s candidacy can cause a good ruckus.

  2. Clinton was never a radical, merely a draft dodger.

    Todd Gitlin was a radical, and remains one. Molly Ivins was a progressive (not sure those are always ‘radicals’) from her youth, as has been Jim Hightower, and as have been many others.

    Hagel differs from the fusion conservatives of National Review only on the war, so far as I know. And he is, as you note, far from a non-interventionist in the mold of John Paul, other libertarians, or perhaps the paleocons.

    On the other hand, it isn’t clear to me just how truly isolationist those paleocons actually are. Are they willing to say it’s time for that ‘peace dividend’ we were supposed to get at the end of the Cold War? Time to liquidate the Military Industrial Complex? Time to withdraw all our overseas forces to the Western Hemisphere, north of the equator? You have to wonder.

    Justin Raimondo might want to do that in a fit of Old Right enthusiasm.

    But Pat Buchanan? He is still way too enamored of American power, an unreconstructed Cold Warrior who hurts and feels personally humiliated when American forces appear to be losing even on a fool’s errand.

    As for those who are called “realists,” I think generally they have their own delusions of grandeur, way over-estimating the usefulness of spending as much on the military as the whole rest of the world combined, trying to play globo-cop to a wholly unencouraging and unimpressed audience that finds the show really stupid.

    Besides, more often than not, it isn’t the interests of America, the country, that are at risk overseas where ‘realists’ want to intervene. It is only the interests of oligarchs, investors, and corporations.

    And if it would not be legitimate for the American military to stage a coup to prevent the US government nationalizing, say, the oil industry in a perfectly lawful and democratic way, why would it be legitimate for them to foment a coup in Venezuela to protect the oil holdings of American corporations?

    If Doug Bandow is typical, even libertarians deny legitimacy to such actions. And you can be reasonably confident where the anti-interventionists of the left would stand on that question. But the paleocons? The neocons? The fusion guys at NR?

  3. Rick, I think it was Hayek who identified the “ratchet effect” – one intervention’s uninetnded bad consequences calls forth cries for futher interventions whose unintended consequences, … etc. Though he meant to apply it to domestic questions it seems pertinent here.

    Gaius, I think PB is still too much of an unreconstructed Reganite and Cold Warrior to be a true paleocon. If you read bona fide paleocons they come pretty close to being out-and-out isolationsits (combined with sealing the borders).

  4. I read the Bacevich article, and then went to the “Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy” to look for an alternative. And what I found didn’t impress me. It had two policy statements about stopping the Iraq war, and one specifically about the Palestianians.

    Now, this seems to me to be exactly how NOT to go about it. What is the foundation of US interventionism? Not Israel — but the Atlantic and Pacific alliances. If you want to have a non-interventionist foreign policy here’s the step:

    1) remove US troops from Korea;
    2) have the US withdraw from the command structure of NATO, while France enters it;
    3) have the US remove troops from Okinawa and the W. Europe.

    It is these troops and this alliance, not Israel, which forms the precondition for an interventionist US policy. Not only that, these changes could be done any time in the foreseeable future, without any risk at all of actual miltiary defeat of the US. Had they been done in 1991 to 2000, we would not be in Iraq or Bosnia or anywhere, except Colombia and Haiti.

    All the while the US treaty commitments to defend our allies could be maintained — what would change is that in the very unlikely event that S. Korea, or Poland, or Britain, or the Phillipines are attacked, they’ll have to handle the initial defense themselves, and we’ll come in later. And if Isreal wants to buy Apaches from us, great, and get we’ll see how well they work.

    And as for the Palestinians — well they can join the Tibetans, the Fur, the Congolese, the Bosnian Muslims, Serbs, the Kurds, the Rwandan Tutsis and so on as people to whom in the future we send condolence cards to, and nothing more.

    Is this what they really want? I don’t think so. What they want is the US to be a meddling, interventionist power, but on behalf of the Palestinians.

    So watch all these “anti-interventionists” when the Iraq war is over and the immediate fallout has been stabilized. Will they follow the program I’ve suggested? Probably not. And that will show that they are in fact in favor of meddling in the Middle East, they just have a different idea about whom they think we should support there.

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