The Long View 2003-05-03: Snapshots

This speech will forever be known as Mission Accomplished. Of course, John didn't know at the time this would be remembered in retrospect as the epitome of us winning the war in Iraq and losing the peace.

This line is pretty funny:

There was one drawback: George W. Bush may be Grand High Proto-Emperor-in-Chief, but a suit will always make him look like a prep schooler wearing clothes his mother bought him.

John talks a bit about the supposed influence of Leo Strauss on the second Iraq war and neoconservatism in general. I think too much can be made of Strauss and Straussians in this context, but it did always seem to me a plausible idea.

What I do know of Strauss mostly comes through the writings of Fr. James V. Schall S.J., a Jesuit formerly of Georgetown University's political science department. Schall was mostly interested in Strauss' Aristotelian realism, less so in the famous esoteric writing hypothesis, which I have never found particularly compelling.

People are still oohing and aahing about the president's address from the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln on May 1. (Well, partisan Republicans are oohing and aahing; partisan Democrats are wailing and gnashing their teeth, perhaps because Bill Clinton's military photo-ops never worked anywhere near that well.) The substance of the event was a little vague. The address was not quite a declaration of the end of hostilities in Iraq; that would have had repercussions under the laws of war, such as the release of POWs and restricting the use of lethal force against the fugitive Iraqi leadership. Nonetheless, it was a fine address: gracious, dignified, and directed to the immediate audience of crewmen.
The visuals made the event. I was most struck by the lighting. Directors like to do outdoor shots when the sun is low, so the nearly horizontal light illuminates surfaces evenly and produces dramatic shadows. For myself, I kept thinking of a line from an R.A. Lafferty story: "There never was an early Roman Empire. It was always a late-afternoon kind of thing."
The media and the president's critics made much fuss about the president's landing on the carrier and his hobnobbing with the crew in a flight suit, like Top Gun thirty years later. Few remarked on the fact he gave the address itself in an ordinary business suit. This was a brilliant idea. It emphasized civilian control of the military, of course, but visually it ensured the president would not disappear into the audience as just another guy in a flight jacket.
There was one drawback: George W. Bush may be Grand High Proto-Emperor-in-Chief, but a suit will always make him look like a prep schooler wearing clothes his mother bought him.
* * *
If you believe many commentators, and not all of them the president's critics, all of this international policing is being done at the posthumous behest of Leo Strauss, the Classicist who taught at the University of Chicago for many years. Things have reached such a state that the Sunday newspaper color supplements are running articles about him. In some circles, the term "neoconservative," already too narrowly restricted, is being further contracted to make the term synonymous with "Straussian."
I have nothing against Leo Strauss or the Straussians, but he is one of those thinkers I have never greatly cared to pursue in detail. (This is not to say that I have been above citing him.) For instance, Francis Fukayama's The End of History and the Last Man was apparently as Straussian as anyone could wish; I certainly liked it. However, I can't say that any peculiarly Straussian insight ever struck me as much of a revelation.
I gather that Strauss was trying to present a secular, Aristotelian, non-scientific alternative to existentialism. There is nothing wrong with such an exercise, though of course it's not unique to the Straussians. Ayn Rand was up to pretty much the same thing, though I don't doubt Strauss's work is far more serious. Maybe if I knew more about Strauss I would see his influence on the content of American foreign policy. In the current state of my ignorance, though, the Clinton policy of "democratic enlargement" strikes me as more Straussian than Bush's "preemption" doctrine; it also strikes me that both policies can be considered without reference to Strauss at all.
* * *
Speaking of people I would prefer to overlook, I see that Castro has not lost his touch. Lately he used the distraction of the Iraq War to lock up and even execute dissidents, making the excuse in his May Day speech that the US could use internal dissent as an excuse to invade. Most wonderfully, he has received public support from intellectuals and artists around the world. Yes, it is still possible to get Nobel laureates to sign a petition in defense of old-fashioned, gulag style socialism.
In the US, the history of support for Cuba has peculiarly creepy origins. The Fair Play for Cuba Committee, for instance, seems to have originated at the interface of Red-Brown radical politics: Kevin Coogan gives some names and dates in Dreamer of the Day, his sprawling biography of the American neo-Nazi, Francis Parker Yockey. The connection here is not socialism, or even antisemitism, but hatred for America.
I should mention that Coogan cites Strauss, whose critique of the Conservative Revolution is no doubt worth pursuing.
Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site