En Revanche quotes from an op-ed by William F. Buckley, who didn’t like the adventure in Iraq from the start, and doesn’t like it much now, either. Buckley says
We pronounced, in the Declaration of Independence, ideals we conceived of as universally appealing, but which no one had the least intention of exporting beyond the boundaries of the newly independent country.
All of that came much much later, becoming full-blown U.S. policy only in the reign of Woodrow Wilson, whose espousal of ideological diplomacy caused desperate problems for himself, his administration and the League of Nations. Missions for world reform came back in the late ’30s, provoked by the universalist aims of Soviet communism and, though more finite in its appetites, the far reaches of the Nazis’ Third Reich. The rhetoric of the Four Freedoms and of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was there to justify international activity on the part of the United States: the Marshall Plan, NATO, and the hundred meetings of native idealists who reasoned, with great appeal, that the liberties we would not ourselves do without were written in a universal idiom, leaving us as chief agents of evangelism.
Two challenges are posed. The first is relatively manageable: Lower the flag on American universalism — not to half-mast, but not as toplofty as it has been flying since the end of the Second World War. The second is tougher. Why is Islam burning bright? What on earth do they have that we don’t get from Christ our King? If what they want is a religious war, are we disposed to fight it?
I find fault with Buckley’s thinking in these respects:
- “No one had the least intention of exporting beyond the boundaries of the newly independent country”? Do attempts to take Canada, Manifest Destiny, the Monroe Doctrine, the adventurism of the 1890s, and so forth not count? How about misisonaries? Businessmen? Filibusterers (military adventurists trying to take over countries)? Back then it was a lot more likely that the acquired territory become a state; these days we’re less acquisitive in that manner. Buckley’s point may be contra Sharansky, but stated disingenuously.
- Buckley, the author of God and Man at Yale, seems to have forgotten what Yale is like these days, where God shows up in the form of guys like the Taliban public spokesman. Not that many people are “getting from Christ our King” these days, particularly in Western Europe and the blue states. Those who do certainly aren’t descending into the style of apocalyptic faith that cleanses the world through blood as the Christians had to deal with immediately following the Reformation and the Muslims are dealing with now (and globalized!). That combination of secularism on one hand and apocalypse and nihilism on the other is pretty characteristic of a good portion of the conflict. It took many decades for Wahab’s work to catch on; Qutb was tortured and killed in the seventies, the ayatollahs took over the Iranian embassy in the seventies. This situation has taken a long time to get here; it’ll take a long time to kill off.
- It’s not exporting American universalism that we really want. We want sic semper tyrannis faster; we know free people tend not to obsess over ways to blow up Americans, so we want the tyrannies to be freer. This doesn’t mean sham elections, or anarchy; it means moving towards more democratic institutions. The Republic of Korea had its first really free elections only a decade ago after a de facto sorta benevolent and gradually liberalizing military dictatorship; these things take time, and it’s not merely a ballot box with “Thug One” or “Thug Two” selected by the ruling thugs as in the Palestinian or Iranian elections.
Apparently George Will has the same hymnal as Buckley, because Will’s singing a similar tune with an “I Hate The Weekly Standard” twist.
Still, it is not perverse to wonder whether the spectacle of America, currently learning a lesson — one that conservatives should not have to learn on the job — about the limits of power to subdue an unruly world, has emboldened many enemies.
Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” Rice called it “shortsighted” to judge the success of the administration’s transformational ambitions by a “snapshot” of progress “some couple of years” into the transformation. She seems to consider today’s turmoil preferable to the Middle East’s “false stability” of the past 60 years, during which U.S. policy “turned a blind eye to the absence of the democratic forces.”
There is, however, a sense in which that argument creates a blind eye: It makes instability, no matter how pandemic or lethal, necessarily a sign of progress. Violence is vindication: Hamas and Hezbollah have, Rice says, “determined that it is time now to try and arrest the move toward moderate democratic forces in the Middle East.”
Will sure sounds defeatist, and sounds like Scowcroft arguing for status quo ante. The administration has decided that status quo ante with nuclear weapons and the Internet is not desirable.
(Update: Phibian thinks Will’s spot on in considering Iran a bridge too far for the Americans. I would only point out that if we think so, then the Iranians and their clients will act unconstrained by our desires, and the result of that may well be worse. I’ve not done that analysis; I’m just saying.)
Perhaps in a future column, George Will can expand on the Kennan argument as applied to President Ahmadinejad, and of the consequences if he is wrong. Reread the Long Telegram. The Soviet Union Kennan considered appropriate for “containment” was radically different from the Islamist jihadis of today.
“The theory of the inevitability of the eventual fall of capitalism has the fortunate connotation that there is no hurry about it,” Kennan wrote. “The forces of progress can take their time in preparing the final coup de grÃ¢ce.”
No 12th Imam there. No need to hurry his return. And in Iran today, as with al Qaeda, there is no leisurely pace, only fury and fervor.
Containment applied to such a force is surely appeasement. It is a recipe for a disaster far greater than 9/11.
A foreign policy based upon the reality of the Iranian regime does not mean a war with it or Syria, though neither would war be ruled out. But it certainly wouldn’t indulge in the fantasies that characterized Stanley Baldwin and his followers. The very first step is clarity about the nature of the enemy.
Hewitt also calls for debate on the situation in Congress, and that’s not a bad idea–although some debate other places would be good as well.
I think Hewitt’s got a point about the Long Telegram. That document was a part of what helped frame our response to Soviet aggression. Right now the closest thing I can think of would be the Bush Second Inaugural, informed as it is by Natan Sharansky’s The Case For Democracy, and codified into the National Security Strategy. From the inaugural address:
At this second gathering, our duties are defined not by the words I use, but by the history we have seen together. For a half century, America defended our own freedom by standing watch on distant borders. After the shipwreck of communism came years of relative quiet, years of repose, years of sabbatical – and then there came a day of fire.
We have seen our vulnerability – and we have seen its deepest source. For as long as whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny – prone to ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder – violence will gather, and multiply in destructive power, and cross the most defended borders, and raise a mortal threat. There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom.
We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.
America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth. Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave. Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our Nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation’s security, and the calling of our time.
So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.
This is not primarily the task of arms, though we will defend ourselves and our friends by force of arms when necessary. Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen, and defended by citizens, and sustained by the rule of law and the protection of minorities. And when the soul of a nation finally speaks, the institutions that arise may reflect customs and traditions very different from our own. America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way.
The great objective of ending tyranny is the concentrated work of generations. The difficulty of the task is no excuse for avoiding it. America’s influence is not unlimited, but fortunately for the oppressed, America’s influence is considerable, and we will use it confidently in freedom’s cause.
Buckley would like to lower his flag. I think others are going to keep theirs high, for better or worse, and for a long while.