The delusions of a tenured whiner at Berkeley
CAIR Calls for Release of Abdul Rahman

Foreign Policy after Iraq

I thank Blackfive for his invitation to return to speak with you today. The last time I appeared on this page was during the 2004 election, when I wrote Red State, Blue Collar, which some of you may remember.

Today another debate from the 2004 elections has returned to us, not about domestic but about foreign policy. It is good that this debate has returned to us, because it is an important one, and we were not able to have it fully during the late election. The debate is over whether America should use its military and other powers to develop democracies worldwide, or whether it should restrict its military action to strike those who have chosen to be our enemies.

No question could be more critical. We were unable to give this question the debate it deserved in 2004, because the advocate of the punitive-strike position was John Kerry -- or rather, his advisor on military affairs, General "Tony" McPeak, USAF. General McPeak is an honorable man, but he had the misfortune of serving under a flag-carrier who didn't believe in the principles of his arguments, or apparently on the value of holding principles at all. As a result, the debate was not only unfinished, but barely begun; no sooner would Kerry advocate the principles, he would abandon them to advocate different ones instead.

Yet it is a principled position, and one that deserves close attention because it is one of only two realistic options -- and so, if we are not to do things the current way, we must do them this other way. We are fortunate that the cause has been taken up by National Review's John Derbyshire, without question or near comparison the most thoughtful writer at that magazine, and indeed one of the most honest and thoughtful writers operating in America today. Mr. Derbyshire is an honest and devoted advocate of these principles, and I would like to examine his argument.

It happens I disagree -- on most cases -- with what he proposes. The reasons will wait in the extended entry.

.blMr. Derbyshire is himself responding to a piece defending Bush's democracy-promoting foreign policy, written by -- as he points out -- his boss.

My first reaction after reading Rich's piece was actually, I am sorry to say, a quip:

Q: What’s the difference between a Lowrian “Let’s Try to Democratize Them” hawk and a Derbyshirean THWTH?

A: About a year.

That is flippant, though. Rich is well-read, well-connected, and (gulp) my boss, so he deserves better than that. Let me first begin by laying out my own understanding of the THWTH position.

I think that's kinder than Mr. Lowry deserves, having constructed his own argument -- an argument whose underlying principles I support -- on an ad homineum attack on advocates of Mr. Derbyshire's position. Kind or not, Mr. Derbyshire has every potential to be correct. I said so myself, in 2005, in a piece noting what was at that time apparently continued strong support for the war. I will cite it at length because it is still relevant, and the core of the argument against Mr. Derbyshire's position:

As will be recalled, Kerry's chief military advisor, "Tony" McPeak, advocated what is called a "network centric" war: bombing Iraq, destroying its infrastructure and its military, reducing it to rubble, and then departing. The Bush administration proposed, and continues to propose, what is called a "fourth generation" model. The engagement with the Iraqis, the attempt to engage in counterinsurgency fighting and to change the society through development is characteristic of this model.

Both models have the potential for long term success in the GWOT. Contrary to a frequently stated line of thought, it is not the presence of unstable regions that breeds terrorists of the sort who are dangerous to Western society. It is the possession of material prosperity, in particular education, that allows groups like al Qaeda to have assets who can move freely in Western society. They must be able to speak English, understand the customs, hold passports, and travel freely. What turns these men into terrorists is the possession of material prosperity, combined with a lack of opportunity to influence the politics of their homes through nonviolent means.

The fourth generation model attempts to raise their societies the rest of the way, to democracy as well as relative prosperity. The network centric model attempts to return them to pure poverty, so that they are too poor to produce educated and mobile men capable of being a real threat to the internal structure of the West. From a purely utilitarian perspective, either method has the potential to be successful; and the second is a great deal easier and cheaper than the first.

The preference for the first method, then, must come from something other than utilitarian thinking. It must come, I think, from a moral preference. Moral preferences are very expensive in war. In a sustained conflict, they are normally abandoned: war has a way of reducing everything to utilitarian calculations.

Anti-war forces in America should be advised of this fact. Most of them are decent people, who simply detest violence, and who -- like the Quakers -- would rather suffer than strike.

They need to understand the sense of the American people, which is otherwise. If the antiwar movement succeeds in convincing Americans that Iraq's rebuilding is too expensive, it is not the case that Americans will not support future wars. They will support any future war in which they feel the stakes are high. Nor will the presence of an antiwar president in office, should one be elected, stop war: just as the Senate was forced to approve the resolution at a far higher rate than Senators' personal sentiments would allow, so the President too must be driven by the will of the people when it is expressed with clarity and unity.

What the people will not support, should Iraq's rebuilding fail, is future rebuilding efforts. The violence that the antiwar movement so detests can only become more naked and unmitigated as a result of their efforts. I do not think many of them truly supported, or understood, what McPeak was advocating. I suspect, if they understood, many would choose Bush's model as the lesser evil.

Emphasis added. Mr. Kerry didn't seem to understand the principles himself; when he wasn't advocating an end to 'illegal, immoral' adventures, he was advocating a form of warfighting that was far more brutal, if easier to fight, than the more difficult and expensive form of war that Mr. Bush has always advocated.

I think, then, that Mr. Derbyshire is correct to say that it is possible that "all thoughtful patriots" will come to his position -- if the war in Iraq is judged to be too expensive, in lives and treasure, compared to the results it finally produces. He says that in his conclusion:

We have to make judgments about the quantity and quality of our resources, the size and nature of our enemy, and the temper of our people. Then we have to choose one of the only three possible broad approaches to the threats we face.

(1) Stand proud and secure, a commercial republic jealously guarding our own territory, but not trespassing on other peoples’. This is the posture we nowadays call “paleocon.” As a friend of this persuasion put it to me: “Nobody is mad at Switzerland.”

(2) Strike out at those who insult us and harm our interests — preemptively, when we believe we have cause. Do so without apology or regret. Only do so, however, with punitive or monitory intent, or to remove some plain visible threat (e.g. nuclear-weapon plants), and do not stay around to get involved. This is usually called the “Jacksonian” approach, though this is not perfectly accurate, since Old Hickory was not in the least averse to a spot of territorial expansion.

(3) Go out into the world proselytizing for rational, consensual government — “democracy.” Attempt to actually impose it, when opportunity arises. As President Bush said in his report to Congress the other day: “We seek to shape the world, not merely be shaped by it." This is commonly called “Wilsonianism,” though the usage here needs even more qualifying than “Jacksonian” does.

Any one of these can be misrepresented, and we may be sure that whichever one we settle on will be misrepresented. Number 1 can be portrayed as huddling fearfully behind high walls; number 2 as unilateralist bullying; number 3 as arrogant imperialism. Since these three are the only broad strategic approaches available to us, we must bear with the misrepresentations as best we can, and calmly decide which path best fits our abilities, interests, and national temperament. It seems to me that number 2, the THWTH approach, must be our choice. More than that: I think number 2 is so supremely consonant with our present requirements, capacities, and mood, that its gravitational pull will soon draw all thoughtful patriots into orbit around it — yes, including Rich Lowry. So that quip I started with was actually no quip: It was meant as a prediction.

I have told you where I agree. Now here are some things with which I disagree:

1) I disagree that option one is a viable foreign policy for the United States. I used to believe that it was -- ten years ago, I advocated it myself. Yet in 9/11 we have seen that we are not Switzerland. America's business interests alone, to leave every part of her government aside, are so deeply integrated with the world economy that it is impossible to stand behind walls, so that "Nobody is mad at America." Debates that seem purely internal have worldwide effects: a decision to subsidize American sugar farmers leads to starvation in parts of Africa. It is hard to imagine that there are any two places in the world to which Americans gave less thought in the 1990s than Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan -- the former, because we were accustomed to thinking it a businesslike kingdom whose interests were in continuing to sell what we wanted to continue to buy; the latter, because it was high and remote, the graveyard of armies, somewhere impossibly distant. Yet it was those very two places that produced the attacks of 9/11.

I think we are left, therefore, only with options two and three. The world will come to us, if we do not go to it. We have to decide, then, not if but how to meet it.

2) We are left, then, with the remaining two options. We can go forth to smite foes, either to the death or with a warning that we shall return if they do not change their ways, or we can go forth to smite foes and then build better states in our wake. Mr. Derbyshire argues for the first of those two options. He says that it is the proper mode for us because, I summarize:

A) The military is designed for warfighting, and warfighting is brutal by nature. "Soldiers are for" killing people and breaking things, and that is how they should be used.

B) People worldwide are different, and these differences are deeply ingrained and not something that can be overcome with a government program -- even one run by the military, with the full backing of the State Department and CIA (if such backing could be imagined, let alone arranged).

C) Nationbuilding requires massive resources even where it can be successful. Every such project lessens our ability to act elsewhere to counter what Mr. Derbyshire (correctly, I think) identifies as the true threat: nuclear terrorism.

D) The American population is not willing to support the kind of brutal fighting necessary to put down an insurgency.

E) It isn't necessary to make the enemy love us, just leave us alone. It being much easier and less expensive to make him fear us than love us, and having no special need for him to love us, we should stick with having him fear us.

This is a tremendous set of reasons, all interlocking and well-constructed. Their weight -- the gravitational pull -- should surely draw any of us to accept them.

Only partially, I think.

A) The military is designed for warfighting, but the design is not as limited as Mr. Derbyshire suggests. The United States Marine Corps was deployed almost every single year for the first half of the 20th century in one or another "small war," and their record of handling them was quite good. This was before television and videotape, of course, and so we can't know just how brutal their methods were -- but the surviving "Small Wars Manual," which is available online, does not suggest that the method of choice was brutality. It captures most of the lessons of counterinsurgency warfare that we see discussed today: the importance of allies in the community; the importance of cultural understanding; etc. "Soldiers are for" not killing, that is, but rather they are "for" winning wars. They can be trained to do whatever it takes to win them -- and the American fighting man, in particular, has proven quite adaptable on this ground.

B) People are indeed different. Like Mr. Derbyshire, I have lived for a while in China, and it has informed my notions on this score. I agree that people are fundamentally different -- and, in fact, that this is largely a good thing. Still, I think it is possible to overdo this, as indeed the Chinese do themselves. Mr. Derbyshire describes a social studies book from his boyhood describing all the inhabitants of the far-flung Empire, which is well and good. While in China, though, I saw a cereal box decorated with a map of the world done up in a similar fashion: in America there was a cowboy (as is right!); in the UK there was a bowler-hat-and-monacle'd gentleman; and in Africa, there was a bone-through-the-nose wearing cannibal, cooking a missionary.

We have to be aware of the differences between peoples, but we also have to be clear not to overdo it -- not to lock our understanding of them at the point of cowboys and cannibals. If we do that, we can make a clear-eyed review of Arabic and Muslim culture, and find that there is much to encourage us. US forces following the model of engaging Iraq's heroic culture have made tremendous strides: the recent letter from the mayor of Tall Afar to the 3rd Armored Cavalry is one example; our friend Captain Joel Leggett, The Sheik Marine, is another. It may be that there are deeply rooted difficulties in this or that culture that make a perfect Western-style democracy hard to achieve, and so be it. Nevertheless, there may also be positive elements in a culture -- I think there certainly are in Iraq, and Islam -- that can be engaged to create a society that is more well-disposed to living in brotherhood with us.

The peace that can be made with Islam, I have always believed, is a peace between warriors. I think we have much more to gain from such a peace, even if it does not result in 'pure' democracy, than from any alternative vision. It seems worth the cost, and well worth it.

C) I yield this point entirely. Nationbuilding is both more difficult and more costly, and it does limit our ability to act elsewhere. This is why I differ from Mr. Derbyshire only mostly. When there are cases of terror sponsor states about to adopt nuclear weapons, I think we are justified in doing whatever is necessary to stop it. If the choice is between building a society through fourth-generation models and destroying it entirely, I think the 4G model is better both morally and practically: we gain more from such a society in the long run, and a failed, smashed state can produce terrorists even if they aren't nuclear terrorists, or capable of moving freely among Western states because of a lack of education and documents. If the choice is between smashing a terror-sponsor state or conceeding their development of nuclear weapons, why, that is no choice at all. Where there is no reasonable 4G option, I think Mr. Derbyshire's position is a useful fallback.

D & E) These go together.

Mr. Derbyshire makes much, as do others, of the alleged American sensitivity to violence and casualties. We are all familiar with the dynamic, and I see no reason to list the elements of it again.

Yet as I said above, the anti-war Left -- mostly made up of decent people who hate violence -- has a much stronger interest in the current policy than the alternative Mr. Derbyshire proposes. Precisely because it limits the number of occasions on which we can engage in war, we shall engage in fewer wars; precisely because it seeks to unmake harm and rebuild what we have broken, it is a more moral kind of warfighting. There is a small part of the American body politic that is against war under any circumstances. As a political consideration, however, the center of the debate isn't occupied by either the anti-war Left, or the fellow willing to smite without concern for the casualties. It is occupied by the person who supported fighting in Kosovo and Bosnia, and also Iraq on the onset. The American center appears to hold, I say after some years of observation, that war is a viable tool of national policy and that they trust the military more than any politician or journalist. However, it is horrified by war crimes, and insists that war be fought for the furthering rather than the smashing of civilization.

It seems to me that Mr. Bush has managed to build a platform on this center position, which is withering on both sides as the war carries on. Yet it is the center on which all successful national-level politics such as foreign policy must be made. The center is no more likely to come to advocate a war-without-remorse position than it is to advocate an anti-war position. The politician who attempts to carry one out will quickly be removed by the electorate.

I think that much of the decent Left failed to understand what Kerry was advocating, in part because Kerry seemed not to understand it well enough to advocate it, and in part because he seemed not to believe it any more than any of his other positions. In a debate where the positions were clear, however, I have no doubt as to which side will win.

And rightly so, I believe. It is in the best traditions of the American military. Our Special Forces, who in so many ways capture what is best about our nation as well as our military, adopted as their motto De Oppresso Liber, "To Free the Oppressed." These are not the sort of men to have a foolish or unrealistic view of war, or how wars are won.

They are won by violence, certainly, but also by principle. An army that believes in what it is doing will fight harder and with greater courage than one that is driven against its will. We have seen that retention rates in the US military have remained extremely high, and desertions fallen, since we have been engaged in Iraq. Those rates are nowhere happier than among the front-line fighting forces.

What is needed, then, is not a policy that moves off of this center. What is needed is a better explanation to the American people, left and right, of how our actions in Iraq are in keeping with this tradition and understanding. That we have not seen such a thing is in part the media's fault, for its failure to understand and its eagerness to tell bad news. It is partially the fault of the political class -- both that part which has failed to articulate our values, and that despicable part that has attempted to win political gain by slandering the military. It is partially the fault of our educational system, which offers students no grounding in military science or military history -- yet how are these students, who must be citizens and make decisions about these matters, to judge the progress of war without such a background?

I remain convinced that we shall have the victory in Iraq, of couse, and it may be that a visible and utter collapse -- should one occur -- would be instructive. Perhaps the American people will cease to believe in just war, and come to believe in punitive war. Perhaps; but they did not do so following Vietnam. They did not do so after Mogadishu. A few did, certainly -- myself among them, for a time. But the great body of the American people remained convinced of the rightness of our great national cause: the defense of justice, and the furthering of liberty.

So may they always. I submit it is the right couse, now and after.