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-No more "wars of choice": If the Democrats will stop trying to out-hawk the Republicans, the Obama administration can begin rebuilding America's economy and military -- and international image. (Michael Lind, Jan. 22, 2009, Salon)
When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the 1980s, he sought a truce in the Cold War, a breathing spell that would provide time for reformers to engage in "perestroika," or "restructuring," of the Soviet Union. In the aftermath of the Bush administration's hyperactive militarism and manic overextension, the U.S. needs a similar breathing spell in foreign policy that will permit concentration on rebuilding, not just reviving, the U.S. economy and its social contract. The Soviet Union proved to be unreformable and collapsed. But an American perestroika has the chance to result in a modernized, stronger American economy and society -- if a period of relative calm in foreign affairs allows resources and attention to be given to domestic reform.

Unfortunately, the Democratic Party's foreign policy mandarins are ill-prepared for peace. Many centrist Democrats have spent so much time in the last few decades trying to prove that Democrats can be as hawkish as Republicans that they have become hard to distinguish from bellicose neoconservatives. A number of liberal hawks joined the Weekly Standard neocons in supporting the Iraq war. To make matters worse, many "humanitarian hawks" have spent a generation arguing that the U.S. should fight more wars, not fewer, intervening in countries like Sudan in the name of human rights or a "responsibility to protect." Worst of all, the fashionable idea among centrist Democratic foreign policy intellectuals has been the concept of a "concert of democracies," which would marginalize China and Russia. No wonder that John McCain and the neocons love the concert-of-democracies idea.

While we have to defend ourselves against genuine threats, we need a prolonged period without any more "wars of choice" and with fewer other optional and costly interventions abroad, in order to concentrate on reconstruction at home. [...]

[C]hina and Russia have...formed the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and carried out joint military exercises to send a signal to the United States. China shot down one of its own satellites to show the U.S. military what it is capable of. Fearing U.S. military control over Middle Eastern oil supplies, China has made deals with unsavory, anti-American petrostates from Sudan to Venezuela. Meanwhile, Russia has tried to rebuild a sphere of influence by bullying neighbors dependent on its natural gas lines and attacking Georgia, America's new satellite state and potential NATO member. My purpose is not to excuse Chinese or Russian policies, but merely to point out that they are predictable strategic responses to America's policy of encirclement and humiliation.

Neither the U.S. nor the world can afford Cold War II, which would be crippling in its costs even if it were relatively bloodless. All other foreign policy challenges -- from global warming and global development to anti-terrorism -- would become more difficult to address. The greatest geopolitical challenge facing the Obama administration is therefore not jihadism, a threat that is serious but limited, nor is it bringing permanent peace to the Middle East, important as that is. It is averting a second Cold War among the industrial great powers.

To that end, Obama should repudiate the failed strategy, pursued by the Clinton as well as Bush administrations, of seeking to establish American hegemony by keeping other great powers -- China and Russia in particular -- as humiliated, weak and isolated as possible. It is not enough to change the rhetoric and talk about multilateralism rather than unilateralism. Neither is it sufficient to engage in paternalistic language about "integrating" rising powers into a global system in which the U.S. continues to set the rules and grades the participants. Nor is the answer a "new Atlanticism," with a Euro-American axis as the center of world politics, and NATO rather than the U.S. as globo-cop. The era when the West policed the rest is over.

A new American liberal internationalism means genuine power-sharing in international security and international economic institutions, with China, Russia and India as well as the major states of the Muslim world, Latin America and Africa.

Mr. Lind seldom writes sensibly because he's a hater, particularly a hater of the religious, trying to comprehend a religious country. This leaves him incapable of comprehending the ideals and motives that drive America.

His all too common pathology manifests itself in several ways here, that tend to fatally undercut his hopes for a new era of isolation, or Realism as the neo-isolationists like to think of it. The first, of course, is that the idea that the United States will make common cause with Communist China that not only represses the Tibetans, Uighurs, Falun Gong and other groups but tens of millions of Christians and, by association, with its allies in North Korea, Venezuela, The Sudan, etc., borders on derangement. The American people might welcome a short breather in which we aren't busily toppling evil regimes, like the PRC's and Hugo Chavez's, but we aren't going to transfer power to the dictators and make ourselves active participants in the subjugation of peoples.

As in his assertion that he isn't advocating isolationism, Mr. Lind is similarly playing with words when he refers to his proposed policy as "liberal internationalism." There is nothing liberal about such a conscious disregard for the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of several billion people who happen not to be lucky enough to live in states we've already liberated. Michael Howard, in his tragi-comic classic on the centuries long search for world peace, War and the Liberal Conscience, writes:
I have chosen the term 'liberal conscience', for the word 'conscience' implies not simply a belief or an attitude but also an inner compulsion to act upon it. And by 'liberals' I mean in general all those thinkers who believe the world to be profoundly other than in should be, and who have faith in the power of human reason and human action to change it, so that the inner potential of all human beings can be more fully realised. This excludes on the one hand those conservatives who accept the world as it unalterably is and adjust to it with more or less of good grace; and on the other those disciples of Karl Marx and other determinists who see men as trapped in predicaments from which they can be rescued only by historical processes; which they may understand but are powerless to control. It is a definition which today would probably cover almost the entire range of political thinkers in Britain and the United States.
Now Mr. Howard delivered the lectures upon which his book was based in 1977, and he's British, so he can perhaps be forgiven for failing to see that the vast majority within the Anglosphere who are moved by liberal conscience have a rather dimmer view than he proposes about the efficacy of Reason and the ultimate ability of Fallen Man to perfect human society, but president after president has since that time summoned Americans to a series of wars that have sought to change the world and free captive peoples and the conscience has consistently prompted us to follow their lead. Indeed, Mr. Howard later describes America in a more recognizable way:
The United States..., virtually aloone among nations, found and to some extent still finds its identity not so much in ethnic community or shared historical experience as in dedication to a value system: and the reiteration of these values, the repeated proclamation of and dedication to the liberal creed, has always been a fundamental element in the cohesion of American society.

In this respect the United States has always resembled rather a secular church, or perhaps a giant sect, than it has the nation-states of the Old World.
Mr. Lind, not being of the sect, is, not to put too fine a point on it, quite simply unAmerican. To expect the church to follow the preaching of such a heretic is quite futile.

Before moving on, we ought note the method by which Mr. Lind would undermine the America he is at odds with, it is, quite naturally, via a transnationalist attack on our sovereignty. It is to take power from the American Republic, which has used it so unwisely in his view, and transfer it to "international institutions." In his conclusion, Michael Howard offers a cogent analysis of this tendency too:
The basic fact that has been recognized by every serious political thinker who has turned his attention to the matter--by More and Bacon, by Hobbes and Locke, by Montesquieu and Rousseau, by Kant and Hegel--is that war is an inherent element in a system of sovereign states which lacks any supreme and acknowledged arbiter; and the more genuinely those states, by reason of their democratic structure, embody indigenous and peculiar cultural values and perceptions, the less likely they are to sacrifice that element of sovereignty which carries with it the decision if necessary to use force to protect their interests. The answer cannot lie, as Rousseau sardonically suggested, in the dissolution of the sovereign state, for as Rousseau perceived, it is only by creation of a sovereign with which they can completely identify themselves that men can feel themselves to be fully free. To this extent Mazzini was right: in order to have internationalism one must first create nations; and those peoples who have already achieved cultural self-consciousness and political independence can all too easily forget the claims of those who have not.
In essence, Mr. Lind advocates for "internationalism" precisely because a democratic America fully realizes its cultural values and he does not identify with that America. His is the politics of those who seek to protect the world from American culture. If Americans won't be who he wishes they were, then America will have to be constrained. Thus do unAmerican feelings become anti-American practices.

There's another important way in which this Realist is insensible to the realities of the American soul. Having no conscience pricking at him, he tends to look at wars as a function of interests, personal interest at that, though Realists tend to gussy it up as pretended national interest. The wars he favors are then cast as thrust upon us by necessity, while those he opposes are mere wars of choice. The facts of American history are quite otherwise. All of our wars have been wars of choice and they've overwhelmingly been a matter of responding to our liberal conscience, or our Evangelical ethos.

Nor is that about to change just because the secular believe that this election has given Judeo-Christianity its comeuppance. President Obama, like Mr. Bush before him and a long line of good men before, would undoubtedly like to approach the world with humility and hope that other countries would just evolve towards us quietly. And, in truth, over a sufficiently long period of time that might actually happen. But the conscience is unquiet and so we continue to intervene, to hasten the conformity of other states to the intelligent design of our own. And who would ever want an America that was unmoved by conscience, an America that no longer hears God's voice? Who would mourn our passing if we stopped listening?


Grade: (A)


Michael Howard Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Michael Howard
    -BOOK SITE: War and the Liberal Conscience by Michael Howard (Columbia University Press)
    -REVIEW: of Rick Atkinson, THE DAY OF BATTLE: The war in Sicily and Italy 1943–1944 (Michael Howard, Times Literary Supplement)
    -REVIEW: An Officer and a Professor: a review of Michael Howard, Captain Professor: The Memoirs of Sir Michael Howard (Jacob Heilbrunn, National Interest)
    -REVIEW: of The Invention of Peace: Reflections on War and International Order, Michael Howard (Vincent Ferraro, International Studies Review)

Book-related and General Links: