Repost: The Long View: An End to Evil

On the sixteenth anniversary of 9/11, it is worth reflecting on what happened, and what we did in response.

This is Exhibit A in the story of what went wrong during George W. Bush's response to 9/11. In retrospect, I see both how it seemed emotionally appealing, and how not everything Frum and Perle advocated is stupid. It is just the whole package that is stupid, but you need to know a lot to really get there.

Hindsight is 20/20, although in theory this is what experts are supposed to do: give us advice when we need it most and want it least. Frum and Perle clearly failed by that standard. For example, here is the definition of the problem of terrorism from this book:

For us, terrorism remains the great evil of our time, and the war against this evil, our generation's great cause. We do not believe that Americans are fighting this evil to minimize it or to manage it. We believe they are fighting to win – to end this evil before it kills again and on a genocidal scale. There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust.

No. No, it isn't. There is no possible way al-Qaeda then, or ISIS now, could possibly destroy America or the West. Their objective strength is 10,000 times less than the last mortal adversary the United States faced, the USSR. Bad things will happen, and have happened, but the time and money we have spent on this is vastly disproportionate to the problem.

Thanks, Frum and Perle.

I don't have any idea how to truly 'fix' the problem, by which I mean eliminate the ability of terrorists to do things like fly planes into the World Trade Center or shoot and bomb people in Paris on a November evening. But I do know that the usual way of putting it is exactly backwards: it doesn't matter how many of us they kill, our civilization cannot be killed by the likes of them.

9/11 was almost a decade in the works. The actual field strength of ISIS is less than 30,000 men. That isn't what a life or death struggle looks like. Almost 50,000 men died in the battle of Gettysburg alone. No one is all in here. Get a grip.


An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror
By David Frum and Richard Perle
Random House, 2003
284 Pages, US$29.95
ISBN 1-4000-6194-6

 

“But what did Mrs. Karswell say?”

“She was so excited I scarcely understood her. She kept repeating, 'All evil must end.' But how could it?”

---Curse of the Demon (1957)

 

By its own account, this book is a “manual for victory” in the War on Terror. It's probably just as well that the book delivers somewhat less than its title promises. Nonetheless, the strategy it does set out is more hopeful than George Kennan's “containment” policy must have seemed at the beginning of the Cold War. Certainly it is more proactive.

The authors are David Frum, who was George W. Bush's presidential assistant, and Richard Perle, who recently was chairman of the Defense Policy Board in the Department of Defense. (He is also remembered in policy circles as the “Prince of Darkness” because of his hard anti-Soviet line during the Reagan Administration, but that is another story.) Both authors are Resident Fellows at the American Enterprise Institute. They would be members of the Neoconservative Politburo, if the neoconservatives had a politburo, which the authors insist they don't. They assure us that the cabal you keep hearing about is really just four independent analysts who hardly anyone at the State or Defense Departments ever talks to.

In terms of literary form, “An End to Evil” falls under the category of “memorandum.” Much of the text employs the special White House mood that might be called the Presidential Declarative. It's quite without index or bibliography; the rare footnotes are chiefly to websites and a few magazines. For that matter, the lines of text are widely spaced, to make them easily readable by people too busy to read an ordinary book format. The effect is not like an ordinary political polemic. It's like being briefed.

But enough form criticism. The memorandum defines The Problem thus:

“For us, terrorism remains the great evil of our time, and the war against this evil, our generation's great cause. We do not believe that Americans are fighting this evil to minimize it or to manage it. We believe they are fighting to win – to end this evil before it kills again and on a genocidal scale. There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust.”

The problem within the Problem is that, sometime in the Spring of 2002, the elites of the West began to tire of the War on Terror. This includes the US State Department, which the authors sometimes seem to suggest is just marginally less of a menace to American security than is Al Qaeda. Certainly the foreign-affairs establishment opposed the war in Iraq, by means overt and covert.

The authors defend that war in detail. They note that, despite the lack of stocks of weapons of mass destruction, the Baathist regime had numerous weapons programs, and that the mere existence of the regime was an ongoing human-rights violation. The authors' main point, however, is that pursuing the War on Terror requires a strategy broader than the pursuit of the actual perpetrators of terror.

The reasons for the jihad against the West are largely autochthonous, though it is funded with oil dollars and facilitated by Finnish cellphones. The authors ascribe the root cause to the conceptual inability of Muslim societies to cope with their relative decline in the world, aggravated by the season of fantasy made possible by the sudden infusion of oil money. A terse characterization of the current situation (though not one that the authors give) is that the jihad is an Islamic civil war being fought in part on Western soil.

The strategy of the terrorists is not at all irrational. By spectacular acts of carnage, they hope to cow Western publics into deference to their goals, and to promote the prestige and credibility of Islamists in Muslim countries. By the same token, however, if the Islamists are seen to be losing, if their terror attacks are thwarted and their sponsors are being overrun, then the terrorist networks will disintegrate. “Nobody wants to die on a fool's errand,” the author's note. The War on Terror is difficult, but it is winnable.

The perpetrators are just the final product of a system of financial support, logistical assistance and, ultimately, of physical protection that only states can provide. It is nonsense to assert, as some opponents of military action apparently do, that the 911 attacks were accomplished using fewer than two-dozen men at a cost of a few thousand dollars. In fact, the system that recruited and trained the hijackers extended over several countries. It took more than a decade to build, at great expense. Most important of all: Al Qaeda is just a special case. Despite differences in ideology and theology, the Baathists and Hezbollah and Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Brigades are in fact in continuous contact, and sometimes hold general conferences in friendly countries. In the final analysis, nothing will serve but to change the nature of those regimes that actively support these groups, or are too weak to resist them.

That said, we are still left with the question: “Why start with Iraq?” Iraq does have a history of supporting terrorists, notably Abu Nidal. However, the Baathist regime has clearly been far less active in this regard since the Gulf War of 1990-1991. Though the authors never quite say so, one gathers that Iraq was simply the best choice in legal and logistical terms. I find that justification persuasive. It is also scarcely a secret: preemption was the chief theoretical reason the Bush Administration gave for pursuing the Iraq War. However, the Administration did not trouble to keep this theory before the public.

Emphasizing preemption would have been difficult for the Administration, since the logic of the theory makes Saudi Arabia the real target. That may not be what the Administration intends. Nonetheless, the authors make a good case that something even beyond regime change is necessary in the Arabian peninsula: the elimination of the Saudi state. The authors repeat certain embarrassing facts. Saudi-funded religious schools have radicalized a generation of young Muslims, from the Gulf to Indonesia to American prisons, with an ideology of jihad and a worldwide caliphate. Saudi money supports front groups in Western countries that deflect the authorities from investigating the terrorist connections of many mosques and academics. Saudi money has corrupted an appreciable fraction of the diplomatic corps in the United States, where the easy transformation from career diplomat to splendidly compensated lobbyist for Saudi causes is a scandal that dwarfs private-sector influence buying. And let us not forget: the suicide bombers on 911 were mostly Saudis.

The Saudi monarchy is not particularly malicious. It is dangerous because it is weak. The monarchy can maintain itself only by buying off radical Islamists, who then use the money for purposes that are very malicious indeed. The Saudi state is so grossly corrupt and incompetent that its survival is problematic at best. While the authors do not exclude the possibility that the monarchy might be reformed, they say that US should be focusing on the fact that the kingdom's Eastern Province, where most of the oil is located, is also largely Shiite and notably restive. Presently, the authors imply, the opportunity may come to redraw the map.

Breaking up Saudi Arabia is the single most dramatic suggestion in the book. Regime change should also be the goal in Iran, they say, but that can be accomplished by economic pressure, the support of dissidents, and the promotion of Western media. The one thing to avoid is to treat the Islamic Republic as a democracy, or even as legitimate. Regarding the other great intractable, North Korea, the authors note that there are no attractive options, but insist that some are better than others. We should disabuse ourselves of the idea that North Korea can be trusted to negotiate away its nuclear weapons. The US should take steps to make a war on the Korean peninsula less catastrophic, by redeploying its own troops and installing artillery suppression and antimissile systems. The key to Korea, however, is China, which can close down the North Korean regime almost at will. At least in the middle term, the US goal should be a North Korea that is more subservient to China.

“An End to Evil” sometimes waxes surprisingly irenic. Although Pakistan is in some ways even more frightening than Baathist Iraq was, the authors are inclined to attribute the radicalization of the Pakistani public square to Saudi subventions. The Pakistani government was unable to fund a comprehensive public-education system, so the Saudis stepped in with what in effect were missionary centers for Wahhabism. Moreover, the Saudis provided about three quarters of the funds for the Pakistani atomic bomb. There is no hope in the immediate future of persuading Pakistan to get rid of its nuclear weapons. The same is true of India. It is, however, possible to make the situation much less dangerous by rescuing the Pakistani state and economy. Normalizing economic relations between India and Pakistan can do that. The policy can be promoted by three-sided agreements with the US: India and Pakistan get to trade with America, if they agree to trade with each other. Again, the predicate for such a policy is cutting off the flow of poison money from the Arabian peninsula.

After the tools of War and Trade comes the Calculated Slight. Russia, for instance, should lose its courtesy seat in the Group of Eight if it continues to act as it did in the buildup to the Iraq War. France should be shut out of military and intelligence structures in which the US has a decisive say. More generally, the US should contemplate the possibility that increased European integration might not be in America's interest. Certainly it is not in US interests for Great Britain, with its deployable military forces, to become inextricably bound up with a confederacy dedicated to “counterbalancing” the US. This is not to say that the US should promote the dissolution of the EU, much less of NATO. The US should encourage as many new members as possible to join both organizations. The newbies can be counted on to be friendly to the US, and will soon put the French in their place.

The authors know that all these other steps will work only if the US wins the war of ideas. Richard Perle (like Caesar, he is often referred to in his own book in the third person) relates his experiences on talkshows and radio forums that suggest the US is doing a dismal job at this. There should be an all-media infrastructure by now that broadcasts in Arabic and Farsi, like that which served Eastern Europe during the Cold War. (The book does not have a clue about networks, incidentally: the authors regard the Internet as just another kind of cable television.) The US should turn away from supporting stability to supporting democracy in the Islamic world. A large part of this strategy would be the improvement of the position of women, both educationally and economically. All in all, the US should not be shy about creating a Middle East that looks like America:

“We do not show our respect for human difference by shrugging indifferently when people somehow different from ourselves are brutalized in body and spirit. If a foreign people lack liberty, it is not because of some misguided act of cultural choice. It is because they have been seized and oppressed and tyrannized. To say that we are engaged in 'imposing American values' when we liberate people is to imply that there are peoples on this earth who value their own subjugation.”

This is more right than wrong, but the authors are blind to the fact that some of the supposedly universal values being promoted by international bodies these days are quite as intolerant and oppressive as anything the Wahhabis endorse. Particularly in the area of women's rights, institutions that were originally created to ensure the civil equality of women and to promote women's health have been taken over, in large part, by ideologues. Their chief interests are population control and the normalization of homosexuality. Humanitarian organizations founded to promote the well-being of children are now often more interested in ensuring that fewer children come into existence.

The authors applaud the fact that, soon after 911, the president rejected a proposal that he issue an apology for aspects of American culture, along the lines of “America is not always proud of its media.” That was a wise move: the last thing the US needed after attack by an ambitious and self-confident enemy was more introspection. Be that as it may, if the West wants to export its political culture to the Middle East, the West must recognize that there are aspects of Western modernity that really are repulsive. Not only would-be suicide bombers think that much Western popular culture is sadistic and leering, and that much Western high culture is not neutrally secular, but willfully blasphemous. A war of ideas that overlooks these issues could be lost.

The authors do recognize one truth uncongenial to the liberal West: the essential irrelevance of the Palestinian issue to the War on Terror. The US might receive some plaudits, even from Islamists, if it actually dismantled Israel and evacuated its people from the region. In reality, though, any Palestinian state that is likely to emerge in the Middle East would be an embarrassment: over-policed, corruptly governed, with a political culture based on evasive grievances. As far as the War on Terror is concerned, the US would achieve nothing by pressuring Israel to acquiesce in the establishment of such a state.

A democratic Palestinian state with a liberal economy would be a good idea: both for its own sake, and as a demonstration project for the rest of the region. However, the authors believe that the best place for such a demonstration is Iraq. If that works, then maybe Palestinian civil society will be emboldened to demand better governance.

The authors recommend some very specific steps at home to support the war. They have pretty much given up in the CIA: it should be stripped of all functions but collecting and analyzing intelligence. Similarly, the FBI should go back to crime fighting, while domestic security is put in the hands of a new agency. The authors seem to have trouble taking on board the fact that all persons located in the United States, even those here illegally, must have some rights under the Constitution; that's what “jurisdiction” means.

The book seems to take special delight in redesigning the State Department. All those pesky regional bureaus must go, for a start. To add outrage to injury, the authors recommend more political appointments, especially at the policymaking level. Foreign Service officers are patriotic public servants, the authors concede. However, unlike the patriotic public servants in the military, they have no compunctions about sabotaging policies that are not to their liking.

Quite aside from the motives of the Islamists, the authors detect a deeper explanation for why the US was attacked on 911.

“The 1990s were a decade of illusions in foreign policy. On September 11, 2001, this age of illusion ended. The United States asked its friends and allies to join in the fight against terror – and discovered that after the first emotional expressions of sympathy for the victims, those friends and allies were prepared to do little. September 11 revealed what Americans had been concealing from themselves for far too long: The end of the cold war and the emergence of the United States as the world's superpower had not put an end to the rivalries and animosities of nations. It had simply misdirected them – often against the United States.”

At the end of the book, the authors make many criticisms of the UN. Most important is the accusation that it is anachronistic. The UN was designed to prevent a Blitzkrieg. Today, however, the UN's concepts of aggression and defense actually prevent rational action against international terrorism and its state sponsors. Maybe the definitions of the UN system could be expanded to accommodate the new reality. If not, however, the authors are quite willing to dispense with the system, even if many well-meaning people do regard the United Nations as the parliament of man.

This is not enough. No doubt the UN is due to be scrapped. However, the authors leave nothing to replace it, except for the unfettered discretion of the United States. That's not even an American Empire, which the authors agree would be a bad idea in any case. The authors are probably right that that War on Terror can be won at reasonable cost and in a reasonable amount of time. But what happens then? They may create a vacuum and call it peace. That would not be the end to evil, however. Evil is the absence of good. 

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror
By David Frum, Richard Perle

The Long View: Neocons, Theocons and the Cycles of American History

Neocons go back to James Q. Wilson or possibly the Coleman Report. They represented the wing of American liberalism appalled by the Sixties and the radial Left of that era.


Neocons, Theocons and the Cycles of American History

 

“...[T]he full story of [the generation that came of age around 1900] cannot possibly be told ....by recalling the steel-willed leaders of the 1940s...[T]he full story must include very different images--of youthful indulgence, coming-of-age fury, rising-adult introspection, and midlife pomposity and intolerance. What finally emerged late in life, the austere and resolute persona, was largely self-created by a generation determined (in Edith Wharton’s phrase) ‘to build up, little by little, bit by bit, the precious things we’d smashed to atoms without knowing it.’”

--from “Generations,” by William Strauss and Neil Howe, page 237

 

In November of 1996, the Manhattan-based magazine First Things published the first installment of a symposium entitled “The End of Democracy?: The Judicial Usurpation of Politics.” It was occasioned by the possibility that the Supreme Court might uphold two lower court decisions that had found a constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide. Among the original contributors, Robert Bork and Charles Colson were the best known, though Russell Hittinger’s essay, “A Crisis of Legitimacy,” perhaps best addressed the specific issues suggested by the symposium’s title. Considering that First Things is a respectable monthly read mostly by clergy and conservative academics, the Introduction by the editors was breathtaking. They posed the matter thus:

“The question here explored, in full awareness of its far-reaching consequences, is whether we have reached or are reaching the point where conscientious citizens can no longer give moral assent to the existing regime.”

Yikes.

Before going any further, let me first make some personal admissions. I write occasionally for First Things. I was not part of the symposium, but I wrote an essay that appeared in the July/August 1996 issue of Culture Wars dealing with much the same topic. The piece was entitled “How to Prevent a Civil War.” My argument was not so different from that of Robert Bork’s contribution to the symposium, in which he suggested various mechanisms for limiting the scope of constitutional judicial review. I too used the term “regime” to describe the current jurisprudential system, though I picked up the usage not from the right, but from Michael Lind’s “The Next America.” I too think that contemporary constitutional theory is damned and doomed. If I differ from the symposium’s participants, it is only in believing that the current jurisprudential regime is not just wicked but rotten, and that it will collapse under very little pressure in a fashion not at all dissimilar to Soviet Communism. I am thus not a wholly impartial observer.

Objectivity notwithstanding, the reaction in the weeks that followed the symposium was manifestly explosive. Several prominent members of First Things’ own editorial advisory board resigned. Just about all the conservative magazines chimed in. The Weekly Standard, for instance, ran a piece called “The Anti-American Temptation,” which accused the editors of First Things of running off the rails of ordinary politics, in a way analogous to the “pick up the gun” radicals of the 1960s. The New Republic (not a particularly conservative magazine) ran a piece by Jacob Heilbrunn entitled “Neocon v. Theocon: The New Fault Line on the Right.,” that is worth considering in some detail.

Heilbrunn’s thesis is that the neoconservatives (the neocons) are mostly New York-based Jewish intellectuals who broke with leftist politics in the 1970s. They remade conservatism by articulating serious intellectual critiques of liberalism and the welfare state. When the conservative revival began about 25 years ago, the concerns of cultural conservatives were not much represented among this group. Therefore, they were not much represented in government or the academy, despite the fact it was cultural conservatives, mostly evangelicals and ethnic Catholics, who provided the growing electoral muscle of the Republican Party. Latterly, however, the neocons have been joined by a new breed of conservative intellectual, for whom Heilbrunn has coined the nifty term “theocon.” The theocons, by his account, are predominantly Catholic, and unlike their Jewish colleagues have a tendency to frame political questions with a theological twist. The theocons, in fact, are seeking to restructure American society in accordance with Thomistic natural law. Their efforts are intellectually sophisticated, far more so than anything conservative populists from George Wallace to Pat Buchanan have been able to formulate. However, according to Heilbrunn, “Thomism is an ideology to which only the faithful can subscribe. It is not so much anti-American as un-American.”

Well, so much for John Courtney Murray and the decades-long attempt to establish the compatibility of Thomism with the American enterprise. For that matter, so much for the more recent debate about the natural-law assumptions of the Founding Fathers. The only kind of natural law Heilbrunn seems to feel to be appropriate for American political discourse is the post-Kantian theories of Leo Strauss, who did indeed influence many neoconservatives.

I for one find Heilbrunn’s assessment more odd than offensive. Whatever else you may think about Thomism, it is difficult to think of it as a subversive political ideology. Images rise up of a Senate Subcommittee on Neo-Scholastic Activities. Could its jurisdiction be challenged on the ground that subcommittees offend against Occam’s Razor? C-Span is not ready for this.

For that matter, it is misleading to characterize First Things as a hotbed of Thomism. The editor in chief, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, is indeed a Catholic priest, but before that he was a Lutheran pastor. Much of his social thinking is informed by the Lutheran model of the “orders of creation,” which is analogous to natural law but by design non-theological. The magazine’s editor, James Nuechterlein, remains a Lutheran and delivers himself of a no-popery declaration every few months to make sure that no one forgets. The Managing editor, Matthew Berke, is Jewish. The contributors to the magazine are all over the lot in terms of denominational affiliation. First Things is perhaps most noted for its “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” initiative, announced in its May 1994 issue, which went far toward providing a common roof for all cultural conservatives. St. Thomas is indeed much quoted and praised in the pages of First Things, but then it defines itself as a “Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life.” One thing it is not is a Catholic magazine, much less an organ of creeping international Thomism.

Of course, there is no lack of prominent proponents of natural law on the national scene, many of whom are Thomists. The most prominent, no doubt, is Justice Anthony Scalia, who often makes himself unpopular with his Supreme Court colleagues by critiquing their more incoherent decisions from the bench. There is former presidential candidate Alan Keyes, a brilliant speaker who would have transformed the 1996 election campaign if he had been featured at the Republican convention. (Keyes, by the way, is a former student of Allan Bloom, who was in turn a student of the influential Leo Strauss. In Keyes’ mind, at least, Aquinas proved more persuasive.)

On the other hand, the ranks of Thomists do not include people such as Robert Bork, whose objections to judicial activism arise from a historically-based interpretation of the powers of the courts. “Theocon” might not be a bad term for describing many cultural conservatives. It might not even be a bad term for describing me. However, it is misleading to suggest that all or even most theocons are Thomists, or that opposition to the current state of constitutional law is a crank enthusiasm of religious sectarians, Catholic or otherwise. (For that matter, with all due respect to the Prodhoretz and Kristol clans, neoconservatism is not a Jewish monopoly, even if you confine the term to subscribers of little magazines.)

Granted that Heilbrunn’s criticisms are misdirected, nevertheless it seems to me that all sides to this debate, neocons, theocons and the liberals who mock them, are overlooking some important things about it. What we are seeing now is a drama that has been played out more than once before in American history, when the chaos created by a radical episode was repaired a generation later by much the same people who caused the commotion in the first place. We have all heard that the 1990s are the 1960s turned upside down. In the neocon-theocon flap, perhaps we see an instance of 1960s style turned against the institutionalized vestiges of 1960s substance.

The short explanation for the radical tone of the First Things symposium is that the Supreme Court does bad work in important areas of the law and will not admit its mistakes. It does not help that in such ill-reasoned decisions as Planned Parenthood v. Casey, for instance, we find such language as, “If the Court’s legitimacy should be undermined, then so would the country be in its very ability to see itself through its constitutional ideals.” What nonsense. The country can see its constitutional ideals in the constitution. The court’s “legitimacy” (perhaps Justice O’Connor meant “credibility”?) stands or falls by the court’s competence, the lack of which has been the problem.

This explains the exasperation, but why does the exasperation take the form of a bunch of parsons and college professors making noises like students circa 1968 threatening to storm the math building? Partly it’s because the parsons and college professors came through the 1960s themselves, though they were for the most part too old to be students at the time. The style of some generations, as Strauss and Howe argue in the book cited at the beginning of this article, dominates cultural and political life for decades. The substance may change, but the manner is tenacious. Fr. Neuhaus, for instance, once famously marched into Henry Kissinger’s office with other prominent opponents of the Vietnam War and read him the Riot Act. The First Things symposium is not quite as dramatic, but the spirit is the same.

These remarks apply even more to neocons than they do to theocons. The neoconservatives became neoconservatives, after all, because they were appalled by the extremism of the language and behavior of the far left of 20 or 30 years ago. The theocons of today, or at least the ones at First Things, have few violent tendencies, but once again the neocons are put off by language that seems to suggest that questions of civil order are at issue.

The difference this time around is that the “radicals” have a better chance of winning. The radicals of the 1960s had no prospect of success. On the other side of the victory of, say, the Weathermen there was a world of re-education camps and political dictatorship that few Americans could imagine. Of course, the Kids of the 1960s have “won” in the sense of outliving their elders. One of them is actually in the White House as I write this. However, he got there by abandoning some of his youthful beliefs and dissimulating about the rest.

The task of today’s conservatives is the relatively modest proposition of repairing the damage many of them did themselves 20 or 30 years ago. On the other side of the victory of today’s cultural conservatives, there is a world sort of like the Eisenhower Administration but without racial discrimination. Many people might not like this outcome, but it is not hard to visualize and few people find it actually repulsive. Thus, we may be in for a larger than average historical irony. The very attitudes and rhetorical style that did so much to institutionalize the ‘60s in our law and popular culture may also be among the chief instruments by which that era is finally dismantled.

End

 

Copyright © 1997 by John J. Reilly

This article originally appeared in the February 1997 issue of Culture Wars magazine. An edited version was included in the book:

 

The End of Democracy?
"The Judicial Usurpation of Politics"

The Celebrated First Things Debate with Arguments Pro and Con and "The Anatomy of a Controversy"' by Richard John Neuhaus"

 

The publisher is The Spence Publishing Company (Dallas, Texas). Their telephone number is 1-888-SPENPUB.

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View: An End to Evil

This is Exhibit A in the story of what went wrong during George W. Bush's response to 9/11. In retrospect, I see both how it seemed emotionally appealing, and how not everything Frum and Perle advocated is stupid. It is just the whole package that is stupid, but you need to know a lot to really get there.

Hindsight is 20/20, although in theory this is what experts are supposed to do: give us advice when we need it most and want it least. Frum and Perle clearly failed by that standard. For example, here is the definition of the problem of terrorism from this book:

For us, terrorism remains the great evil of our time, and the war against this evil, our generation's great cause. We do not believe that Americans are fighting this evil to minimize it or to manage it. We believe they are fighting to win – to end this evil before it kills again and on a genocidal scale. There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust.

No. No, it isn't. There is no possible way al-Qaeda then, or ISIS now, could possibly destroy America or the West. Their objective strength is 10,000 times less than the last mortal adversary the United States faced, the USSR. Bad things will happen, and have happened, but the time and money we have spent on this is vastly disproportionate to the problem.

Thanks, Frum and Perle.

I don't have any idea how to truly 'fix' the problem, by which I mean eliminate the ability of terrorists to do things like fly planes into the World Trade Center or shoot and bomb people in Paris on a November evening. But I do know that the usual way of putting it is exactly backwards: it doesn't matter how many of us they kill, our civilization cannot be killed by the likes of them.

9/11 was almost a decade in the works. The actual field strength of ISIS is less than 30,000 men. That isn't what a life or death struggle looks like. Almost 50,000 men died in the battle of Gettysburg alone. No one is all in here. Get a grip.


An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror
By David Frum and Richard Perle
Random House, 2003
284 Pages, US$29.95
ISBN 1-4000-6194-6

 

“But what did Mrs. Karswell say?”

“She was so excited I scarcely understood her. She kept repeating, 'All evil must end.' But how could it?”

---Curse of the Demon (1957)

 

By its own account, this book is a “manual for victory” in the War on Terror. It's probably just as well that the book delivers somewhat less than its title promises. Nonetheless, the strategy it does set out is more hopeful than George Kennan's “containment” policy must have seemed at the beginning of the Cold War. Certainly it is more proactive.

The authors are David Frum, who was George W. Bush's presidential assistant, and Richard Perle, who recently was chairman of the Defense Policy Board in the Department of Defense. (He is also remembered in policy circles as the “Prince of Darkness” because of his hard anti-Soviet line during the Reagan Administration, but that is another story.) Both authors are Resident Fellows at the American Enterprise Institute. They would be members of the Neoconservative Politburo, if the neoconservatives had a politburo, which the authors insist they don't. They assure us that the cabal you keep hearing about is really just four independent analysts who hardly anyone at the State or Defense Departments ever talks to.

In terms of literary form, “An End to Evil” falls under the category of “memorandum.” Much of the text employs the special White House mood that might be called the Presidential Declarative. It's quite without index or bibliography; the rare footnotes are chiefly to websites and a few magazines. For that matter, the lines of text are widely spaced, to make them easily readable by people too busy to read an ordinary book format. The effect is not like an ordinary political polemic. It's like being briefed.

But enough form criticism. The memorandum defines The Problem thus:

“For us, terrorism remains the great evil of our time, and the war against this evil, our generation's great cause. We do not believe that Americans are fighting this evil to minimize it or to manage it. We believe they are fighting to win – to end this evil before it kills again and on a genocidal scale. There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust.”

The problem within the Problem is that, sometime in the Spring of 2002, the elites of the West began to tire of the War on Terror. This includes the US State Department, which the authors sometimes seem to suggest is just marginally less of a menace to American security than is Al Qaeda. Certainly the foreign-affairs establishment opposed the war in Iraq, by means overt and covert.

The authors defend that war in detail. They note that, despite the lack of stocks of weapons of mass destruction, the Baathist regime had numerous weapons programs, and that the mere existence of the regime was an ongoing human-rights violation. The authors' main point, however, is that pursuing the War on Terror requires a strategy broader than the pursuit of the actual perpetrators of terror.

The reasons for the jihad against the West are largely autochthonous, though it is funded with oil dollars and facilitated by Finnish cellphones. The authors ascribe the root cause to the conceptual inability of Muslim societies to cope with their relative decline in the world, aggravated by the season of fantasy made possible by the sudden infusion of oil money. A terse characterization of the current situation (though not one that the authors give) is that the jihad is an Islamic civil war being fought in part on Western soil.

The strategy of the terrorists is not at all irrational. By spectacular acts of carnage, they hope to cow Western publics into deference to their goals, and to promote the prestige and credibility of Islamists in Muslim countries. By the same token, however, if the Islamists are seen to be losing, if their terror attacks are thwarted and their sponsors are being overrun, then the terrorist networks will disintegrate. “Nobody wants to die on a fool's errand,” the author's note. The War on Terror is difficult, but it is winnable.

The perpetrators are just the final product of a system of financial support, logistical assistance and, ultimately, of physical protection that only states can provide. It is nonsense to assert, as some opponents of military action apparently do, that the 911 attacks were accomplished using fewer than two-dozen men at a cost of a few thousand dollars. In fact, the system that recruited and trained the hijackers extended over several countries. It took more than a decade to build, at great expense. Most important of all: Al Qaeda is just a special case. Despite differences in ideology and theology, the Baathists and Hezbollah and Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Brigades are in fact in continuous contact, and sometimes hold general conferences in friendly countries. In the final analysis, nothing will serve but to change the nature of those regimes that actively support these groups, or are too weak to resist them.

That said, we are still left with the question: “Why start with Iraq?” Iraq does have a history of supporting terrorists, notably Abu Nidal. However, the Baathist regime has clearly been far less active in this regard since the Gulf War of 1990-1991. Though the authors never quite say so, one gathers that Iraq was simply the best choice in legal and logistical terms. I find that justification persuasive. It is also scarcely a secret: preemption was the chief theoretical reason the Bush Administration gave for pursuing the Iraq War. However, the Administration did not trouble to keep this theory before the public.

Emphasizing preemption would have been difficult for the Administration, since the logic of the theory makes Saudi Arabia the real target. That may not be what the Administration intends. Nonetheless, the authors make a good case that something even beyond regime change is necessary in the Arabian peninsula: the elimination of the Saudi state. The authors repeat certain embarrassing facts. Saudi-funded religious schools have radicalized a generation of young Muslims, from the Gulf to Indonesia to American prisons, with an ideology of jihad and a worldwide caliphate. Saudi money supports front groups in Western countries that deflect the authorities from investigating the terrorist connections of many mosques and academics. Saudi money has corrupted an appreciable fraction of the diplomatic corps in the United States, where the easy transformation from career diplomat to splendidly compensated lobbyist for Saudi causes is a scandal that dwarfs private-sector influence buying. And let us not forget: the suicide bombers on 911 were mostly Saudis.

The Saudi monarchy is not particularly malicious. It is dangerous because it is weak. The monarchy can maintain itself only by buying off radical Islamists, who then use the money for purposes that are very malicious indeed. The Saudi state is so grossly corrupt and incompetent that its survival is problematic at best. While the authors do not exclude the possibility that the monarchy might be reformed, they say that US should be focusing on the fact that the kingdom's Eastern Province, where most of the oil is located, is also largely Shiite and notably restive. Presently, the authors imply, the opportunity may come to redraw the map.

Breaking up Saudi Arabia is the single most dramatic suggestion in the book. Regime change should also be the goal in Iran, they say, but that can be accomplished by economic pressure, the support of dissidents, and the promotion of Western media. The one thing to avoid is to treat the Islamic Republic as a democracy, or even as legitimate. Regarding the other great intractable, North Korea, the authors note that there are no attractive options, but insist that some are better than others. We should disabuse ourselves of the idea that North Korea can be trusted to negotiate away its nuclear weapons. The US should take steps to make a war on the Korean peninsula less catastrophic, by redeploying its own troops and installing artillery suppression and antimissile systems. The key to Korea, however, is China, which can close down the North Korean regime almost at will. At least in the middle term, the US goal should be a North Korea that is more subservient to China.

“An End to Evil” sometimes waxes surprisingly irenic. Although Pakistan is in some ways even more frightening than Baathist Iraq was, the authors are inclined to attribute the radicalization of the Pakistani public square to Saudi subventions. The Pakistani government was unable to fund a comprehensive public-education system, so the Saudis stepped in with what in effect were missionary centers for Wahhabism. Moreover, the Saudis provided about three quarters of the funds for the Pakistani atomic bomb. There is no hope in the immediate future of persuading Pakistan to get rid of its nuclear weapons. The same is true of India. It is, however, possible to make the situation much less dangerous by rescuing the Pakistani state and economy. Normalizing economic relations between India and Pakistan can do that. The policy can be promoted by three-sided agreements with the US: India and Pakistan get to trade with America, if they agree to trade with each other. Again, the predicate for such a policy is cutting off the flow of poison money from the Arabian peninsula.

After the tools of War and Trade comes the Calculated Slight. Russia, for instance, should lose its courtesy seat in the Group of Eight if it continues to act as it did in the buildup to the Iraq War. France should be shut out of military and intelligence structures in which the US has a decisive say. More generally, the US should contemplate the possibility that increased European integration might not be in America's interest. Certainly it is not in US interests for Great Britain, with its deployable military forces, to become inextricably bound up with a confederacy dedicated to “counterbalancing” the US. This is not to say that the US should promote the dissolution of the EU, much less of NATO. The US should encourage as many new members as possible to join both organizations. The newbies can be counted on to be friendly to the US, and will soon put the French in their place.

The authors know that all these other steps will work only if the US wins the war of ideas. Richard Perle (like Caesar, he is often referred to in his own book in the third person) relates his experiences on talkshows and radio forums that suggest the US is doing a dismal job at this. There should be an all-media infrastructure by now that broadcasts in Arabic and Farsi, like that which served Eastern Europe during the Cold War. (The book does not have a clue about networks, incidentally: the authors regard the Internet as just another kind of cable television.) The US should turn away from supporting stability to supporting democracy in the Islamic world. A large part of this strategy would be the improvement of the position of women, both educationally and economically. All in all, the US should not be shy about creating a Middle East that looks like America:

“We do not show our respect for human difference by shrugging indifferently when people somehow different from ourselves are brutalized in body and spirit. If a foreign people lack liberty, it is not because of some misguided act of cultural choice. It is because they have been seized and oppressed and tyrannized. To say that we are engaged in 'imposing American values' when we liberate people is to imply that there are peoples on this earth who value their own subjugation.”

This is more right than wrong, but the authors are blind to the fact that some of the supposedly universal values being promoted by international bodies these days are quite as intolerant and oppressive as anything the Wahhabis endorse. Particularly in the area of women's rights, institutions that were originally created to ensure the civil equality of women and to promote women's health have been taken over, in large part, by ideologues. Their chief interests are population control and the normalization of homosexuality. Humanitarian organizations founded to promote the well-being of children are now often more interested in ensuring that fewer children come into existence.

The authors applaud the fact that, soon after 911, the president rejected a proposal that he issue an apology for aspects of American culture, along the lines of “America is not always proud of its media.” That was a wise move: the last thing the US needed after attack by an ambitious and self-confident enemy was more introspection. Be that as it may, if the West wants to export its political culture to the Middle East, the West must recognize that there are aspects of Western modernity that really are repulsive. Not only would-be suicide bombers think that much Western popular culture is sadistic and leering, and that much Western high culture is not neutrally secular, but willfully blasphemous. A war of ideas that overlooks these issues could be lost.

The authors do recognize one truth uncongenial to the liberal West: the essential irrelevance of the Palestinian issue to the War on Terror. The US might receive some plaudits, even from Islamists, if it actually dismantled Israel and evacuated its people from the region. In reality, though, any Palestinian state that is likely to emerge in the Middle East would be an embarrassment: over-policed, corruptly governed, with a political culture based on evasive grievances. As far as the War on Terror is concerned, the US would achieve nothing by pressuring Israel to acquiesce in the establishment of such a state.

A democratic Palestinian state with a liberal economy would be a good idea: both for its own sake, and as a demonstration project for the rest of the region. However, the authors believe that the best place for such a demonstration is Iraq. If that works, then maybe Palestinian civil society will be emboldened to demand better governance.

The authors recommend some very specific steps at home to support the war. They have pretty much given up in the CIA: it should be stripped of all functions but collecting and analyzing intelligence. Similarly, the FBI should go back to crime fighting, while domestic security is put in the hands of a new agency. The authors seem to have trouble taking on board the fact that all persons located in the United States, even those here illegally, must have some rights under the Constitution; that's what “jurisdiction” means.

The book seems to take special delight in redesigning the State Department. All those pesky regional bureaus must go, for a start. To add outrage to injury, the authors recommend more political appointments, especially at the policymaking level. Foreign Service officers are patriotic public servants, the authors concede. However, unlike the patriotic public servants in the military, they have no compunctions about sabotaging policies that are not to their liking.

Quite aside from the motives of the Islamists, the authors detect a deeper explanation for why the US was attacked on 911.

“The 1990s were a decade of illusions in foreign policy. On September 11, 2001, this age of illusion ended. The United States asked its friends and allies to join in the fight against terror – and discovered that after the first emotional expressions of sympathy for the victims, those friends and allies were prepared to do little. September 11 revealed what Americans had been concealing from themselves for far too long: The end of the cold war and the emergence of the United States as the world's superpower had not put an end to the rivalries and animosities of nations. It had simply misdirected them – often against the United States.”

At the end of the book, the authors make many criticisms of the UN. Most important is the accusation that it is anachronistic. The UN was designed to prevent a Blitzkrieg. Today, however, the UN's concepts of aggression and defense actually prevent rational action against international terrorism and its state sponsors. Maybe the definitions of the UN system could be expanded to accommodate the new reality. If not, however, the authors are quite willing to dispense with the system, even if many well-meaning people do regard the United Nations as the parliament of man.

This is not enough. No doubt the UN is due to be scrapped. However, the authors leave nothing to replace it, except for the unfettered discretion of the United States. That's not even an American Empire, which the authors agree would be a bad idea in any case. The authors are probably right that that War on Terror can be won at reasonable cost and in a reasonable amount of time. But what happens then? They may create a vacuum and call it peace. That would not be the end to evil, however. Evil is the absence of good. 

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror
By David Frum, Richard Perle

The Long View 2002-09-26: Strange Forms of Life

The internal politics of the Right in the United States have been strange. For most of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the Right has struggled for respectability without achieving it. Or at least that is how it seems now. It is worth remembering that this has not always been true in living memory. What has been true is that some have sought to sacrifice others for the public good [or their own benefit]. At least in principle, the struggle session has been a thing of the far Left. However, in practice, it has been rather bi-partisan.

During the middle of the twentieth century, American conservative thought was thought to be moribund, and was famously caricatured by Lionel Trilling as nothing but a series of irritable mental gestures. Whittaker Chambers felt the Left was going win, but he threw in with the losing side because of Stalin's purges and genocides. This trend reached its apotheosis in the Kennedy Enlightenment, but the failures of the Vietnam War and the War on Poverty resulted in the victory of the Reagan coalition and a resurgence of the Right. This is the period that gave us the birth of the neo-conservative movement, when a number of prominent liberals such as Irving Kristol publicly defected to the Republicans.

Thirty years ago, it was fashionable to be conservative, as I was reminded upon reading Paul Fussell's Class. If you want a visual reminder of this time, look at the movie PCU, which memorably lampooned early PC while illustrating the early nineties glamour of New England preppies. With the passage of time, the tides have turned against the Right again, and now all the cool kids want to be on the Left again. However, this is the New Left, the winner of the succession wars that followed the self-destruction of the liberal consensus. So far, neither Right nor Left in America has been able to produce an enduring political settlement to match the longevity of the New Deal, with repeated swings back and forth in national politics as fortunes rise and fall.

Part of this cycle is a continual churn in the staffs and the very existence of the little magazines that provide the national conversation on political topics. Most of these journals never really make money, and are kept alive by the financing and egos of wealthy men who choose to dabble in politics in the hopes of leaving a legacy. Over time, some of these magazines pass into the American mainstream, providing a source of stable jobs and political influence, and they cast off their less-respectable elements as they seek legitimacy. On the Right, this manifests as a search for anti-Semitism and racism. On the Left, this is the ever expanding search for those who are not sufficiently politically correct.

John mentions the American Conversative in this vein. In 2002, Taki Theodorocopulos was the financial angel who kept this magazine alive, and Patrick Buchanan provided the brand name. Ron Unz was also involved. Taki and Buchanan are still listed as founders on the masthead, but they no longer are editors or publish articles, having long since been forced out for crimes against respectability.

As it turns out, John was very wrong about the Second Iraq War. There are some I respect who still think that a different policy in Iraq could have preserved the peace. It isn't hard to find people who think no good was possible, and Taki and Unz and Buchanan are foremost in funding that on the Right; some things never change.

Among those things is the interest in extraterrestial life.  Many of the hopes of Golden Age sci-fi were dashed by actual exploration of Mars and Venus. Since I grew up reading Heinlein juvenile, the idea of settling Mars or Venus seems inexpressibly romantic to me.

 

Strange Forms of Life

 

Although I live on the wrong side of the Atlantic, I followed with keen interest the giant march of rural protestors in London on Sunday. 400,000 people? Isn't that ten times as many who turned out for the Charterist Movement marches in the 1830s? And all to protest a bill before Parliament to ban fox hunting?

I realize that these foxes are just carrying water to a basket of grievances. (That's a mixed metaphor, but a cool image.) The Countryside Alliance, which organized the march, seems to be like the umbrella groups that form from time to time in the rural US. Some rural protesters are pig-greedy agricultural entrepreneurs who think the state owes them a living. Still, as in the US, what we also have here is a movement against ecological ideology by people who actually know something about the land.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about all this is that none of the the marchers, as far as I can tell, were the Usual Suspects. In fact, judging by the reaction on the Web (which may be a poor barometer), radical Britain reacted to the appearance of a genuine populist movement with singular disinterest. Whenever a large number of people march for any purpose, political, economic or even religious, you can usually count on some pack of neo-Trotskyites trying to hijack the movement for their own squirrel-brained purposes. The closest I could find was a few feeble attempts to redirect Web searches away from the march's organizers.

The march seems to have been a genial parody of the typical climax to a G.K. Chesterton novel, in which the People rise up to overthrow the establishment, especially when the establishment is socialist. Chesterton was not a great admirer of aristocracy (though he was of monarchy, so he would have been pleased by Prince Charles's open support for the Countryside Alliance). Among the aristocrats he numbered what would later be called cultural liberals, whom he also associated with plutocracy. That is not how Prime Minister Tony Blair's New Labour government looks to me, but that is how it seems to look to at least 400,000 Britons.

The fact that one of Britain's rare earthquakes occurred about the same time as the march might have given an earlier generation pause.

 

* * *

Some forms of populism are past due. Among them I would include the kind represented by Patrick J. Buchanan's new magazine, The American Conservative. I just got a complimentary copy of the October 7 issue. There is nothing to complain about in terms of layout or editorial quality. It is printed on the sort of cheap paper-stock that denotes the traditional seriousness of the Little Magazine. It further maintains tradition by being subsidized by a financial angel of whom the less said the better, in this case one Taki Theodorocopulos.

This issue is almost wholly devoted to arguing against an American invasion of Iraq. This is reasonable thing to argue for, but the magazine's opposition seems to be, well, overdetermined. One gathers that the invasion will be a bloody mess, or that the occupation will be a bloody mess, or that the next Iraqi government will be no better than the current one, or that control of the Middle East would create imperial overreach. The one possibility that the issue does not allow for is that the war will be a resounding success.

At risk of jinxing the operation, a happy outcome is by far the most likely. The fighting will be short. The country will not break up; it will be cantonized and demilitarized. The Iraqis will sing "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" and get back to business, which is good: the country's GDP grew 15% last year. The democratic movement in Iran will be bolstered and the Syrians will stop funding terrorist organizations.

If these good things happen, the magazine will have nothing to talk about but illegal Mexican immigration. That is an important issue, but it does not merit its own magazine.

 

* * *

When things go badly in this world, we can always turn our attention to another. I was particularly pleased to see that a new analysis of the atmosphere of Venus is consistent with biology in the middle layers. I recognize that this sort of announcement has a history of not being verified, but I still think it worth noting. As far as I know, it is the first application of an important principle of planetary astronomy: any feature of an atmosphere that cannot be explained by geology is probably caused by biology.

James Lovelock, better known for formulating the Gaia Hypothesis, came up with this idea when NASA asked him how they could determine from a distance whether life was present. His answer ran like this: It would be obvious from a distance that Earth has life on it, because of the oxygen in the atmosphere. Oxygen is an explosive. If it is not continuously replenished, it will soon bond with other elements. The same would be true of, say, methane, which breaks down easily. If something inherently unstable is a persistent feature of an atmosphere, then there is a good chance that some metabolic process is maintaining it.

Venus has been explored, even by landers. The surface is covered by superheated CO2 at almost 100 times sealevel pressure on Earth. However, it has long been known that there are mysterious dark regions that sometimes form at the middle altitudes, where temperatures are below the boiling point of water, and where there is in fact some vapor available. It now also appears that there are unstable acids at those levels. They sound pretty horrible in themselves, but the best explanation for them is biology.

There are doubtful points here. There are non-biological ways to produce the substances in question. And is the proper adjective for things related to Venus "Venusian" or "Venerian"?

A zeppelin should be dispatched at once to clarify these matters. If his magazine folds, Pat Buchanan might be persuaded to serve as ship's lexicographer.

Copyright © 2002 by John J. Reilly


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The Long View: Warrior Politics

Imagine this as a bald eagle with olive branches and arrowsThe opening entry of this review explains much of John's views on the Middle East. And also why this article was published in First Things.

Robert Kaplan has spent these past 20 years reporting on local collapses of civilization, chiefly in sub-Saharan Africa, the Balkans, and the Middle East. He tells us that, in the future, we should expect more collapse rather than less, and over a wider area. Indeed, he says "the paramount question of world politics in the early 21st century will be the reestablishment of order." The period we have entered will be "the most important decades of American foreign policy," when the terms of the emerging global civilization are written. We need more than merely new policies to navigate this stretch of history, Kaplan believes. In "Warrior Politics," he tries to give us nothing less than an outline of an imperial ethos for American elites.

John didn't think that the terrorists could defeat us, but he did think that a loss of will in the voting public of the United States could have negative long term consequences. I think our wars in Iraq were stupid, but John's point of view does give me pause. It is pretty easy to laugh off John's analysis as imprecise and unscientific, but part of the reason I am re-posting everything he wrote over the last fifteen years is I am acutely interested in what he got right, what he got wrong, and why.

For example, Kaplan was very much right that societal collapse seems to be something we see more of, rather than less. One might point out that Kaplan was involved in causing this himself, but he later changed his mind. As of yet, the United States has not yet pursued the logic of promoting democracy in the Global South to its logical end. For example, we destroyed Libya, but we have have preserved Saudi Arabia and the UAE, despite their depravity.

It really isn't difficult to imagine the reason why. We think we know how to remake the world in our image, but each political generation discovers anew that we cannot. We make our peace with the regimes we support and the ones we choose to destroy, but we have not yet found a principled reason for what we do. John proposed a reason, and I think we should consider it.

Warrior Politics:
Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos
By Robert D. Kaplan
198 Pages, US$22.95
Random House, 2002
ISBN: 0-375-50563-6

 

Robert Kaplan has spent these past 20 years reporting on local collapses of civilization, chiefly in sub-Saharan Africa, the Balkans, and the Middle East. He tells us that, in the future, we should expect more collapse rather than less, and over a wider area. Indeed, he says "the paramount question of world politics in the early 21st century will be the reestablishment of order." The period we have entered will be "the most important decades of American foreign policy," when the terms of the emerging global civilization are written. We need more than merely new policies to navigate this stretch of history, Kaplan believes. In "Warrior Politics," he tries to give us nothing less than an outline of an imperial ethos for American elites.

Kaplan says about Western foreign policy pretty much what one wag once said of Queen Victoria: we have pursued goodness to the point of self-indulgence. The result has too often been bloody chaos. Before the UN insisted on conducting an independence referendum in East Timor, for instance, two things were clear. First, the people would vote for independence from Indonesia. Second, Indonesian partisans would exact revenge violently, unless a foreign security force were on the ground to keep the peace. The UN, or rather its members, would not provide such a force, but the do-gooders of the world nonetheless insisted on enforcing the international norm of self-determination. The cost to the people of that country was terrible.

Particularly since the end of the Cold War, the West in general and the US in particular have been guilty of many such exercises of catastrophic good intentions. We punished military governments in places like Pakistan and Nigeria because they were not democracies, though we knew those countries could unravel if civilians took over. We imposed economic sanctions on countries with imperfect human rights records, even though we needed their help in combating forces that were lethally disposed toward us. Often enough, such policies have been driven by nothing more than the irresponsible harping of the press. We could not have continued to conduct foreign policy like that forever. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, we haven't been. "Warrior Politics" does not directly discuss those attacks, but it does explain what we had been doing wrong that made them more likely.

In essence, Kaplan says that the Wilsonian tradition in American foreign policy seeks to apply essentially civic norms to international society. Kaplan characterizes these norms indifferently as "Judeo-Christian" or Kantian. In any case, he says we have been making a category mistake. Civic morality, in Kaplan's view, is a morality of intent. We seek to respect the rights of others, and ask that others respect our rights. The measure of how well we live up to this standard is the disposition of our will to respect it. However, as Hobbes was rude enough to point out, rights become an issue only after order has been established. Only the Leviathan state can provide civic order, and there is as yet no global Leviathan capable of enforcing universal norms. In the world as it is today, the best we can do is an ethics of result. The goals may well accord with Judeo-Christian ideals, but the means to achieve them often cannot.

Among the many technical points Kaplan never clarifies is how the ethical dilemmas of statesmanship differ from those of sovereigns domestically. Obviously, the duties of private persons differ from those of magistrates, because the latter are responsible for the well being of people other than themselves. This is true whether the conflicting goods they must reconcile are domestic or international. Is the ethics of keeping the peace abroad really so different from keeping the peace at home?

Kaplan is at pains to emphasize that he is not endorsing amorality, but rather a morality that is not Judeo-Christian. He calls this ethos "pagan," though he asserts it underlay the ethics of great modern statesmen, notably his hero Winston Churchill, and of Machiavelli and Hobbes. The actual pagans he discusses at length are Sun Tzu, author of the fourth century B.C. Chinese classic "The Art of War," and Thucydides. "Warrior Politics" is really a meditation on the implications of the ideas of these five men, plus those of Malthus, for the 21st century.

The "warrior ethos" that Kaplan proposes takes something from each of them: Churchill's animals spirits, Thucydides' caution against arrogance, Machiavelli's injunction to "anxious foresight," Hobbes's assessment of man as a dangerous predator, and the willingness of Malthus to consider that the mechanical trends of history need not tend toward the increase of human happiness. Inspired in part by an unpublished essay by Michael Lind on the "honor paradigm" in international relations, Kaplan says that the wise statesman of the 21st century should be guided by something rather like the code duello.

In civil society the state protects us, but in lawless regions we must look to self-help, or to strong protectors. The safety of the weak, in fact, depends on the willingness of the strong to use violence in their behalf. In such an environment, the strong dare not suffer insult, lest their credibility diminish and so invite further attacks against them and their clients. There are limits to violence, however. The strong act from self-interest, but only to the point dictated by necessity. To use more force or cruelty than the occasion demands would provoke one's enemies to unite in self-defense.

Readers of Frank Herbert's romance "Dune" may note how closely this ethos matches that of the leaders of the Great Houses in Herbert's imaginary galactic civilization. Indeed, the parallels are closer, since Kaplan imagines a world in which conventional military conflict is rare, but conflict continues nonetheless through "asymmetrical" means. Terror and assassination become the preferred methods of attack, not by the weak, but by the ambitious. The leaders of the West, and particularly the United States, must be prepared to function in a world in which democratic mass armies no longer ensure security. Future wars "will feature warriors on one side, motivated by grievance and rapine, and an aristocracy of statesmen, motivated, perhaps, by ancient virtue." So much for soccer-mom politics.

The role of the United States in all this is unique. It is not quite a world Leviathan, but it is a planetary hegemon. It does not have the luxury that Great Britain had after the Second World War of handing its place in the world over to a compatible power. If anyone is going to embed human rights and the rule of law in the world system, it has to be us. As Kaplan puts it, "Global institutions are an outgrowth of Western power, not a replacement for it." At least on a military level that power lies almost exclusively with the United States.

Kaplan suggests that the world is moving to a greater level of institutional unity. He dwells on an analogy between modernity and the Warring States Period in China. That era resulted, after three appalling centuries, in the Han Dynasty at the end of the 3rd century BC. Kaplan characterizes the dynasty as a loose system of "governance" for the newly unified but highly diverse Chinese world. Inevitably, he also makes the analogy of the United States to Rome; the point of departure is the frequently made comparison between the Second Punic War and World War II.

The United States, then, is to oversee the crystallization of a global civilization we would want to live in. However, Americans must be quite literally the last people in the world to eschew ordinary patriotism for internationalism. Americans must cultivate Flag Day and the Fourth of July in order to maintain the national integrity needed for their global role. Kaplan's model here is the myth-making patriotism of Livy, though one may note that Livy idealized the ancient Republic after it was over, in the first generation of the Empire.

"Warrior Politics" does not propose a formal system of ethics, not even an ethics of statecraft. Still, while describing an ethos is not quite the same as elaborating an ethics, we may note that the ethical systems that come down to us from the ancient pagans have little to do with the "ancient pagan ethos" that Kaplan submits for our approval. Epicureanism and Stoicism were at least as much philosophies of self-cultivation as is Kant's Transcendental Idealism.

Kaplan's dictum that "unarmed prophets always fail" has as many historical exceptions as confirmations. Kaplan does mention that the unarmed followers of Jesus did "help bring down the Roman Empire," but without discussing the case in detail. However, inflexible idealism prevailed over pragmatism even in one of his favorite historical analogies. In the great ideological contest of the Warring States Period between Legalism and Confucianism, the outcome was the defeat of Machiavellian Legalism and the triumph of persnickety, I-told-you-so Confucianism. The prigs do sometimes inherit the earth.

Kaplan's silence about Christian political theory is encyclopedic. He mentions Niebuhr's "Christian Realism" favorably, though he does not describe it. He also makes a passing friendly reference to Richelieu's and Bismarck's "pietism," which Kaplan believes left them free during business hours to maneuver as Realpolitiker. No doubt he saved himself the trouble of reviewing an extensive literature by confining his remarks about Just War theory to this: "Grotius's 'just war' presupposed the existence of a Leviathan - the pope or the Holy Roman Emperor - to enforce a moral code."

"Warrior Politics" is really a call for the American political class to redefine itself in terms of a new goal: the maintenance and consolidation of an international system that is, in some respects, a loosely organized global empire. Kaplan does indeed propose a transformation of values, though maybe not the ones he imagines. In effect, he is not asking for the rejection of Jesus, but of John Rawls. The imperial project is not inconsistent with the expansion of the rule of law, domestically and internationally, and the spread of democratic institutions, or even of economic equality. However, its overriding goal would be peace, or at least a tolerable global order. This would be a new organizing principle for politics. Certainly it would be an un-modern one.

One way to look at modernity is as the period in which societies sought to transform themselves in order to achieve the highest social goods. Democracy and equality in some form have usually been counted among them, but then so have free markets for some and socialism for others. For many people the highest goods have included secularization and environmentalism. In any case, these highest goods, however defined, could never be more than instrumental to the global system of perpetual peace (or mitigated war) that Kaplan is proposing as the end of policy. We are to turn our attention from the highest goods of modernity to the common, essential good of civilization, which is a livable order.

This may or may not be a good idea, but let us not deceive ourselves about the magnitude of the change Kaplan proposes. His "warrior ethos" would change our rhetoric, our public priorities, the kinds of things we admire and despise. An imperial future would be a different world.


This article originally appeared in the June/July 2002 issue of First Things. Please click on the following line for more information:

Copyright © 2002 by John J. Reilly


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