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On Second Thought

The more I ponder it, the more I think Dr. Fleming’s view of the Pelosi-Syria matter makes the most sense.  I was never exactly cheering Pelosi on, but I fear I allowed my now instinctual aversion to agreement with the jingoes on just about anything to trump my better judgement.  In the discussion at Chronicles’ website, Dr. Fleming wrote:

What role congress has in advising and consenting to wars and to the appointment of ambassadors. But it is the Senate, not the House, that approves ambassadors. Pelosi has no more right than I do. For a change, George Bush is not only right, but he is more right than he knows.

As much as I disapprove of this administration and of the general misbehavior of the executive branch, I am even more disturbed by the spirit of anarchy that is growing among many fine and sensible people. Blogging only encourages the sense that each of has a right to whatever we please, including to act as if we were president, supreme court, congress, and gods all rolled into one egomaniacal package. It is a strong temptation to which I have not always been immune. But the world will not always be the way it is and I believe we should act in such a way as to encourage decent order [bold mine-DL]. I know this sounds like Sartre, but it is also sound Christian moral doctrine.

The point about the dangers of blogging unleashing vicious tendencies is definitely right.  If I and other administration critics have badly erred anywhere, it is in our enthusiasm to use any event or “scandal” as a cudgel with which to beat Mr. Bush and in the willingness to rally behind any self-seeking pol who happens to say something potentially useful to the cause of opposing Mr. Bush’s War.  I have tried to avoid the more absurd excesses in this regard (I did not think the anti-Rumsfeld retired generals were our saviours, I do not believe the U.S. Attorneys’ firings were really improper or wrong, and I find Chuck Hagel’s posing to be something of an embarrassment and consider antiwar folks’ embrace of him to be badly misguided), but I am sure I have fallen into two very inviting traps on more than one occasion: these are the traps of thinking 1) if neocons and the White House think there is something wrong with it, it almost has to be a good thing for America; 2) there has to be some remedy somewhere to the continued foreign policy incompetence and villainy of this administration, but if there is it almost has to involve breaking precedents and subverting the executive to some unacceptable degree in one of the few areas where the President has some legitimate role. 

The first trap is so inviting because this is often the correct view, but that does not mean that it is always the correct view.  The second is more inviting because it is deeply depressing to consider the possibility that there literally is nothing that anyone can do to stop Mr. Bush from continuing to make a hash of our foreign policy until he leaves office in 2009.  However, just because something is deeply depressing and bitter doesn’t mean that it isn’t the case.  For instance, it is deeply depressing that most conservatives still support the war, but it is undeniable.  The assumption that there is something that can be done about Mr. Bush’s policies is a fundamentally optimistic one, and I am not normally inclined to accept such assumptions.  

Many people, myself included, allowed ourselves to believe that a change of party in the majority in Congress would serve as some sort of bulwark, however imperfect, against Mr. Bush’s continued misrule, but we may simply have been so blinded by our contempt for the man and his lackeys that we missed that the elections were going to change essentially nothing.  As an anti-democrat, I am especially guilty of ignoring my better instincts and having some sort of faith in a process that I know to be fundamentally irrational and injurious to good government.  The assumption that something can be done is based in a confidence in our form of government as presently constituted (which is a far cry from how it was designed, but there you are) and founded in a belief that our present system is still healthy, capable of self-correction and capable of checking abuses.  The Iraq war itself stands as a repudiation of all such beliefs: the system failed entirely, it is not even attempting to correct itself and it has neither the means nor the inclination to check abuses.     

This lack of a remedy to foreign policy failure seems to be a glaring flaw in the structure of the modern federal government.  It is quite maddening that no one seems to have any recourse, whether through elections or anything else, when an administration commits itself to a foreign policy that is wrong, dangerous, contrary to the national interest and completely cut off from anything resembling reality.  But it could well be that there is no available solution to this dreadful state of affairs that does not involve compromising our commitment to law, custom and our basic principles.  Sometimes there are things that cannot be solved, but must simply be endured.  There is a certain amount of fatalism in this view, I suppose, but then most peoples who live under unaccountable autocrats have to become fatalistic to remain sane. 

It is typically the neocons and Lincoln-idolaters who seek to find justifications for Raskolnikovian overstepping of boundaries for the “greater good.”  How many times have you heard a Yankee apologist talk about “going beyond the Constitution to save the Constitution” and other such lies? Let’s not forget that the apologists for the mass bombing of civilians are legion.  They will stop at nothing to achieve their goals, which is why they are typically so often wrong in their judgements and actions, but it should be the mark of the defenders of Eunomia that we will stop at certain limits because without these limits we are no longer able to govern ourselves or restrain our worst instincts.  The respect for limits and restraint is what separates the morally sane from the fanatics and ideologues.  If we lose that, it will not matter if we win this or that debate, because we will have become the epigones of the possessed.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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