In today’s Washington Post, Robert Kagan writes of “a broad bipartisan consensus emerging in one unlikely area: foreign policy.” Half right: there is agreement across the aisle that American security depends on leveling Afghan villages and hectoring Iran. Much as “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” would like to give Republicans a franchise on clueless crusading, the left hand is at least as bloody. President Obama’s promised change is basically Bushianism with more intelligible captions.
But had Kagan polled beyond his friends at the Project for a New American Century, he would have found as much contention as consensus. On the Right, with the impulse to support a Republican president gone, dissenters are no longer automatically “unpatriotic.” And the Left is splintered between old school antiwarriors and Obamaphiles who would cheer any intervention given enough humanitarian gloss.
Whatever consensus Kagan finds between the moderate Left and neocon Right—a predictable coupling—isn’t nearly as broad as he supposes, for it neglects the principled portions of both parties. The odds of noninterventionists of both stripes forming some coalition of their own are slight. But they don’t need to. Between them they speak for a far larger swathe of the country than The New Republic and Weekly Standard subscriber lists.
As for Kagan’s contention that a consensus is “emerging,” to the degree that one ever existed, it’s evaporating. Find any congressman running for re-election on a promise to work our Iraq magic on Iran. As the long war drags on and increasing numbers of Americans feel the squeeze of a contracting economy, they’re growing disinclined to invest in op-ed utopias. When Kagan speaks of a “stable, increasingly democratic Iraq,” many either disbelieve him or don’t care. His calls for “confronting Iran,” for “a firmer stand toward China,” and “a more balanced [read: belligerent] approach to Russia” send up no rallying cry across the country.
Not that Kagan needs the American public for anything more than recruiting quotas. Everyone knows that foreign policy isn’t set by public will but by think-tank hacks who went to boot camp at Harvard. If they agree among themselves and can call a president to heel, that’s consensus enough to keep us in the war business. It’s hardly a mandate, but maybe those who think democracy is spread by drones can’t be expected to tell the difference.
The incomparable Utne Reader has put together a slideshow recalling the Iraq War in magazine covers. TAC makes the cut. They chose our first cover, which seems conventional now, but at the time–six months before the invasion–pronouncing the anticipated “cakewalk” folly was a bold stroke for any magazine, and particularly one on the Right.
Hearing the retired four-star general and former commander of CENTCOM speak is an exercise in whiplash. He opposed the invasion of Iraq—and supported the surge. He’s optimistic that the Obama administration will chart a new course in foreign affairs—but laments the absence of a strategic statement and admits that there has been no significant break with failed policies. He wants to “internationalize” the war in Afghanistan—or reconsider our NATO membership if our allies don’t agree. He eschews nation-building—but favors institution-building. He wants to free ground troops from outdated installations like Korea and Okinawa—so that they can be sent to the Afghan front.
One minute, Anthony Zinni brims with “then what?” pragmatism. This is not someone who would bomb without a morning-after plan or promise anyone a cakewalk. Neither is he game to throw dollars and boots after some global democracy scheme dreamed up in a think-tank.
But then without warning, the wind shifts, and the cold-eyed strategist turns as idealistic as any Weekly Standard scribbler, speaking of “taking risks for values” and criticizing institutional unwillingness to “think big.” He would put civil affairs under a military umbrella “because that’s where it’s going to end up anyway” and seems unburdened by his own plan’s “then what?”—the new and exciting uses we might find for his comprehensive breaking-building machine.
Zinni fits these mismatched pieces into a “smart power” frame. The Marine in him can’t concede that America needs to be more modest in its ambitions. We just have to be prudent about the fights we pick. This is a sort of progress. It might have kept us out of Iraq—or, as the general’s CENTCOM war plan dictated, caused us to plow in 380,000-400,000 troops. Zinni speaks of “working ourselves out of a job” in the Mideast, a refreshing change from John McCain’s thousand-year reign. But he leaves no room for the possibility that we have neither moral right nor infinite ability to renovate other societies in the first place, whether from the passé top-down model or his no less invasive bottom-up.
From H.L. Mencken’s diary, 1940:
My guess is that in the long run the newspapers will lose their more moronic customers to the radio. … The function of a newspaper in a democracy is to stand as a sort of chronic opposition to the reigning quacks. The minute it begins to try to out-whoop them it forfeits its character and becomes ridiculous. I believe that many people already notice this deterioration, and that is responsible to some extent for the movement toward the radio.
I woke with the hum of Neko Case’s “Magpie to the Morning” in my head. Now after an unfortunate attempt at rebranding The Smiths, we at TAC–and @TAC for that matter–are leery of our tendency to claim for conservatism things that aren’t. Sometimes a poppy isn’t political; sometimes it’s just a poppy.
But I’ll risk sliding into that easy ditch and ruining her indie cred, for running through the lovely Ms. Case’s lyrics is a decidedly traditionalist thread. Not sentimental but awake to the reality that some things worth saving are trampled in the march of progress.
From “Thrice All American”–
I want to tell you about my hometown
It’s a dusty old jewel in the South Puget Sound
Well the factories churn and the timbers all cut down
And life goes by slow in Tacoma
People they laugh when they hear you’re from my town
They say it’s a sour and used up all place
I defended its honor, shrugged off the put downs
You know that you’re poor, from Tacoma
Buildings are empty like ghettos or ghost-towns
It gives me a chill to think what was inside
I can’t seem to fathom the dark of my history
I invented my own in Tacoma…
People who built it they loved it like I do
There was hope in the trainyard of something inspired
Once was I on it, but it’s been painted shut
I found passion for life in Tacoma
Well I don’t make it home much, I sadly neglect you
But that’s how you like it away from the world
God bless California, make way for the Wal-Mart
I hope they don’t find you Tacoma
Then from “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood”: “It’s not for you to know, but for you to weep and wonder / When the death of your civilization precedes you. / Will I ever see you again / Will there be no one above me to put my faith in / I flooded my sleeves as I drove home again.” Her scale is earthy–”I would trade you my empire for ashes”–and her mood often slips into melancholy, as if searching for treasures she knows can’t be retrieved. “A diamond at the bottom of the drain…”
Case’s latest album has critics scoffing at the 32 minutes of frogs croaking outside the barn studio where she records on pianos found free on Craigslist. But when, in our rush between paved boxes, did we last find a frog? Or pause for half an hour plus two? If we did, we might miss something important–or notice that more important things are missing.
Pat Boone has some thoughts about waterboarding—other than to admit that being locked in a room and forced to listen to his greatest hits would drive even the most hardened terrorist to volunteer for it. So what’s a played-out crooner to do but post his pensées on World Net Daily?
His logic goes something like this. We’re at the mercy of “an enemy with absolutely no moral compunction and with a demonic bloodlust to destroy us, our homes and families and way or life.” (Should there be any confusion, that would be 19 hijackers nearly eight years ago, not the massive military footprint that’s killed thousands of Iraqi civilians and driven millions from their homes.) Because of the “extreme urgency and unimaginable danger”—someone’s been watching too much “24”—Boone has no problem with treating terror suspects to an “extremely uncomfortable experience.”
There’s no chance that waterboarding is torture, he claims, because Khalid Sheikh Mohammed endured 130 rounds “with no lasting damage at all” before he “divulged information that thwarted the destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge and saved an estimated 10,000 lives. (Small wrinkle: Iyman Faris, who was convicted in the bridge plot, abandoned his scheme before Mohammed was even in custody.)
Then comes that twist you never saw coming, proof of Boone’s literary genius. It’s not just for evil jihadists anymore. “America is being waterboarded!” by the Obama administration–which suddenly makes waterboarding a really bad thing. “The nation—its economy and political body—has been strapped down, blindfolded and hosed,” says the kid in the white buck shoes. Worse, we’re “drenched and near drowned and gasping for breath”—still with no lasting damage? Apparently tortured metaphors also have a breaking point.
On Fareed Zakaria’s “GPS,” TAC contributing editor Andrew Bacevich deems Afghanistan only “of marginal interest to the United States.” Pakistan is the real center of regional gravity. Thus we must ask whether deploying thousands more troops in an Afghan surge strengthens of destabilizes that more vital security concern. Bacevich answers, “We’re pushing the Taliban into Pakistan, we’re increasing the Islamist threat to Pakistan as a result of our presence in Afghanistan. … Remaking Afghanistan is something that we’re not capable of doing, that we cannot afford to attempt to do, and that frankly is unnecessary.”
CBS reports, “The White House hasn’t yet decided whether President Obama should issue a statement on the death of Michael Jackson.”
A 1984 letter from Ronald Reagan to the singer makes a strong case for executive restraint. After Jackson’s hair caught fire while filming a Pepsi commercial, Reagan wrote, “All over America, millions of people look up to you as an example. Your deep faith in God and adherence to traditional values are an inspiration to all of us, especially young people searching for something real to believe in.”
Surprisingly, “traditional values” and “real” aren’t words the obituary writers seem to be reaching for.
We’re a little late linking to this video of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing of May 5. But it’s well worth watching—especially by anyone not yet backing Rep. Ron Paul’s bill calling for an audit of the Fed.
Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.): Have you reached any conclusions about the Fed expanding its balance sheet by over a trillion dollars since last September?
Federal Reserve Inspector General Elizabeth Coleman: We have not reached any conclusions.
Grayson: Do you know who received that money?
Coleman: For, the, we’re, we’re in the process right now of doing our review, and, um…
Grayson: Right, but you’re the Inspector General. My question to you specifically is do you know who received that one trillion dollars plus that the Fed extended and put on its balance sheets since last September? Do you know the identity of the recipients?
Coleman: I do not know. We have not looked at that specific area at this particular point on those reviews…
Grayson: Well, I have a copy of the Inspector General Act here in front of me, and it says among other things that it’s your responsibility to conduct and supervise audits and investigations related to the programs and operations of your agency. So I’m asking you if your agency has, in fact, according to Bloomberg, extended $9 trillion in credit—which by the way works to $30,000 for every man, woman, and child in this country. I’d like to know, if you’re not responsible for investigating that, who is?
Coleman: We actually, we have responsibility for the Federal Reserve’s programs and operations, to conduct audits and investigations in that area. Um, in terms of who’s responsible for investigating—would you mind repeating the question one more time?…
Grayson: So are you telling me that nobody at the Federal Reserve is keeping track on a regular basis of the losses that it incurs on what is now a $2 trillion portfolio?
Coleman: I don’t know if—you’re mentioning that there’s losses. I’m just saying that we’re not, until we actually look at the program and have the information, we are not in the position to say whether there are losses or to respond in any other way…
For all of you keeping score at home, Neocon Central has now decided that being a Wilsonian is a bad thing. When they were running the show at 1600 Penn, global democracy was a noble and necessary pursuit. Those who questioned its plausibility were defeatists—unpatriotic ingrowns refusing to acknowledge America’s exceptional status.
But at the first hint that Barack Obama isn’t keen to stoke the fires of conflict on their behalf, the War Party has labeled him unrealistic. Robert Kagan writes in the Washington Post: “President Obama likes to see himself as a pragmatist, but in foreign policy he is proving to be a supreme idealist of the Woodrow Wilson variety.”
In this case, “idealist” doesn’t refer to the naïve conceit that because we claimed benevolence—Elections! Women’s rights!—the world would embrace our version of creative destruction, even as we murdered, maimed, and drove millions from their homes. It has nothing to do with mad visions of locals throwing flowers and naming public squares after George W. Bush.
No, Obama is idealistic for assuming that the world might be dealt with by means other than invasion.
Kagan is correct when he says of the infant Obama Doctrine, “let us not call it realism.” The Cairo speech did suggest that, as George Will put it on This Week: “Harmony is the natural condition between nations and if we can just break through the misunderstandings, things will go swimmingly.”
But this doesn’t mean that neocons have taken up residence in the reality-based community either. The notion that anyone, anywhere who isn’t enamored of our Bill of Rights harbors jihadist sympathies is as delusional as the expectation that peace will break if we apologize enough.