plus c’est la meme chose

Originally posted by Bastoche on 09/09/07

The events of 9/11, according to Norman Podhoretz in the essay I discussed yesterday, did not change everything. What they changed was our perception of an enemy that had been developing, adapting, and preparing for the Long Struggle ahead. Prior to 9/11, many Americans had been willfully blind to the preparations our new enemy was making, and even after 9/11 some Americans remained unwilling to see what needed to be seen and do what needed to be done.

Crossposted at dailykos

Not so George W. Bush. The events of 9/11, Podhoretz claims, served him as a revelation: the terrorists hate the very core ideals that define us as a nation, freedom and democracy, and were on an implacable mission to destroy them. His mission, the mission that would define and vindicate his Presidency, now and forever, would be to protect freedom here and to promote it throughout the world and especially in the very heartland of the enemy, the Middle East. Proceeding from his new knowledge, both of the enemy and of himself, he crafted the elements of our new strategy: preemptive military action in order to change the evil regimes harboring and nurturing the terrorists. The Struggle would be a Long and difficult one, but 9/11 had clarified his vision and he would never deviate from his goal.

Can we be confident, though, that his successor to the presidency will adhere to the doctrinal realism George W. Bush has established? If that successor is Rudy Giuliani we can. Rudy has taken on Norman Podhoretz as one of his foreign policy advisors, and in his September/October Foreign Affairs essay, Rudy shows us that he will indeed adhere to the precedents George W. Bush has established, though like any good pupil he will modify them as new challenges arise (those new challenges, I assume, being the ones posed by China and Russia). Like George W. Bush, Rudy wants to establish peace in the world. Like his mentor and advisor, Norman Podhoretz, Rudy understands that peace can only be established on the basis of a realistic assessment of the forces that oppose us in the world, forces intent on eradicating the ideals we espouse and embody.

1. The Real, the Ideal, and the Post-9/11 World

Rudy begins his essay by reminding us that all Americans were transformed by the events of 9/11 into a single “generation,” one compelled to confront “the first great challenge of the twenty-first century”: Radical Islam’s “assault on world order.” Responding effectively to that assault, however, demanded both courage and new thinking.

Confronted with an act of war on American soil, our old assumptions about conflict between nation-states fell away. Civilization itself, and the international system, had come under attack by a ruthless and radical Islamist enemy.

The old assumptions that fell away were those that, as Podhoretz has argued, held sway prior to the enunciation and implementation of the Bush Doctrine. One such assumption is that nations conduct war by means of their military arms. The events of 9/11 powerfully clarified for us that such need no longer be the case. On 9/11 we were attacked not by the military arms of a state, Afghanistan, but by members of a terrorist organization that it had fostered and to whom it gave safe harbor. Such support amounted to an act of war, and the government that supplied it had to be held accountable. We therefore responded with strength and will to the attacks of 9/11, invading the responsible nation, toppling its autocratic regime, and establishing in its place a democratic form of government. But, Rudy cautions us,

this war will be long, and we are still in its early stages. Much like at the beginning of the Cold War, we are at the dawn of a new era in global affairs, when old ideas have to be rethought and new ideas have to be devised to meet new challenges.

Many of those “new ideas” have already been “devised.” They comprise, as Podhoretz has shown us, the major elements of the Bush Doctrine and concern the relation between autocratic states and the terrorist organizations they harbor, aid, and abet. We must now steadfastly apply these new ideas to the foreign policy challenges that face us. “First and foremost” among those challenges, Rudy tells us, “will be to set a course for victory in the terrorists’ war on global order.” In addition to this primary challenge, we face two others: to “strengthen the international system” and to extend the political and economic benefits of that system “in an ever-widening arc of stability and security across the globe.” The tools we have to reach these goals are three: “building a stronger defense, developing a determined diplomacy, and expanding our economic and cultural influence.”

Rudy thus seems to be charting a course between the realist school of foreign policy, which upholds diplomacy and economic exchange as the best ways to achieve stability among the members of the “international system,” and the idealist school exemplified by Reagan and George W. Bush and touted by Podhoretz, which sneers at stability and urges a resolute confrontation with evil backed by military force. Indeed, Rudy goes on to say that the two factions must be united if we are to face our challenges effectively. “Achieving a realistic peace means balancing realism and idealism in our foreign policy.”

It immediately becomes clear, though, that for Rudy, as for any true affiliate of the Reagan School of foreign policy, realism must remain subservient to idealism. Rudy affirms that our relations with other nations must never become unmoored from our basic ideals. “At the core of all Americans is the belief that all human beings have certain inalienable rights that proceed from God but must be protected by the state.” The basic rights on which our civilization is based-life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness-are guaranteed by a particular form of government: democracy. History has taught us that those nations who value the ideals of democracy and freedom establish with one another peaceful relations based on trust and mutual support. History has also taught us that nations who despise the ideals of freedom and democracy establish with one another (and with freedom-loving nations) antagonistic relations based on deceit and mutual distrust. Most Americans grasp this fundamental distinction.

Americans believe that to the extent that nations recognize these rights [of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness] within their own laws and customs, peace with them is achievable. To the extent that they do not, violence and disorder are much more likely.

In order, therefore, to eradicate violence and disorder among nations and achieve a realistic peace, we must act to transform tyrannical and terrorist states into free and democratic ones. “Preserving and extending American ideals must remain the goal of all U.S. policy, foreign and domestic,” as Rudy rather blandly puts it. His intent, though, is clear. We must preserve democracy from the assaults of terrorists. We must also extend the American ideals of freedom and democracy throughout the globe by eliminating terrorism and transforming the states that nurture it.

But our idealism must be tempered by realism. “Idealism should define our ultimate goals; realism must help us recognize the road we must travel to achieve them.” One way to extend the American ideals of freedom and democracy is certainly through diplomacy and economic exchange, as the realists argue. But Rudy knows that such realism will no longer suffice. The realism that we now need is a deep and profound one that understands and is willing to acknowledge the character of our new and insidious enemy. “We cannot afford to indulge any illusions about the enemies we face,” Rudy tells us, and prior to 9/11 indulge those illusions we did. We retreated before terrorist aggression in Lebanon in 1983 and again in Somalia in 1993 and wishfully thought that the terrorists-and the states that supported them-would not be emboldened by our timidity and weakness. “A realistic peace,” Rudy concludes, “can only be achieved through strength,” through military strength, that is, and the will to use it.

2. Rudy’s Way to a Realistic Peace

We thus see that Rudy’s “realism” is not that of the realist school of foreign policy, but an adjunct and supplement to his Reagan-school idealism. Indeed, Rudy explicitly rejects the realist approach to foreign policy.

A realistic peace is not a peace to be achieved by embracing the “realist” school of foreign policy thought. That doctrine defines America’s interests too narrowly and avoids attempts to reform the international system according to our values.

The realists strive to protect America’s security and economic interests by maintaining international stability. Not for them the idealistic attempt to “reform the international system” by actively spreading American values throughout the world. The hardheaded realists have too much worldly wisdom to entertain the visionary notion that America’s “vital interests” are best served by resolutely confronting the evil of fanatic and oppressive tyrannies-who are only too happy to harbor and nurture terrorist organizations-and transforming them into free and open democracies.

But the so-called wisdom of the realist fails to see that the fight we are presently engaged in is one for the hearts and minds of people-for the fierce and passionate ideals that propel people to shape and make history-and not just for those material interests that the realists refer to as “vital.” 

To rely solely on this type of realism would be to cede the advantage to our enemies in the complex war of ideas and ideals. It would also place too great a hope in the potential for diplomatic accommodation with hostile states.

Diplomacy has always been the favorite tool of the realist who assumes that our opponents are motivated by a reasonable self-interest and are willing to bargain and compromise in order to get something of what they want. “Holding serious talks may be advisable even with our adversaries,” Rudy concedes. But one cannot bargain with or accommodate or appease nations “bent on our destruction or those who cannot deliver on their agreements.” The realists are thus deluded if they think that a timid diplomacy coupled with economic exchange will prompt our enemies to change. Only a diplomacy grounded in our core value of freedom and backed by a will to use our military strength can make our enemies accede to our demands.

“Iran,” Rudy says, “is a case in point.” Rudy does not insist “that talks with Iran cannot possibly work.” He admits that they could-“but only if we came to the table in a position of strength, knowing what we wanted.”

We already know what we want ultimately to happen in Iran: regime change. We want to transform Iran from an autocratic nation that harbors and nurtures terrorist organizations into a democratic nation with whom can deal politically and economically on a basis of mutual respect and trust. 

For the moment, though, we’ll settle for something less radical and traumatic than regime change: Iran must dismantle its nuclear facilities and must discontinue its support of terrorist activities. Iran must accede to these demands. We will tolerate neither half-measures nor stonewalling. We are the generation of 9/11 and we have learned well the harsh lessons of that day. We cannot be fooled and we will not be manipulated. We know what is behind the ingratiating smile of the autocrat: a passion to oppress. We will, through diplomacy, urge the theocrats in Iran to mend their ways. But if they do not we will accomplish the mending ourselves.

The theocrats ruling Iran need to understand that we can wield the stick as well as the carrot, by undermining popular support for their regime, damaging the Iranian economy, weakening Iran’s military, and, should all else fail, destroying its nuclear infrastructure.

Rudy does not state precisely how he intends to accomplish these goals, but I think the implications are clear. We will damage the Iranian economy by means of economic sanctions. We will undermine support for the regime through covert operations. We will weaken Iran’s military and destroy its nuclear facilities by means of air strikes.

The application of such sticks, and especially the preemptive application of that most effective of all sticks, air strikes, might very well accomplish our ultimate goal in Iran: regime change. If not, they will at least accomplish our short-term goal of rendering Iran’s influence in the region ineffective. We might not be able to extend freedom to Iran in the near term. But, again, this Struggle will be a Long one, and if we cannot now extend freedom to Iran, we can at least prevent Iran from exporting fanaticism and tyranny beyond its borders. 

The events of 9/11, it seems, produced in Rudy Giuliani the same idealistic fervor that they produced in George W. Bush. That fervor has been shaped by the ministrations of his great tutor, Norman Podhoretz, into a potent ideological system. Rudy now accepts the fundamental neocon notion that a realistic foreign policy must anchor itself in the great American ideal of freedom and must commit itself to spreading that ideal to every other nation on earth. He sees clearly the nature of the new enemy we face: terrorist organizations supported by nations intent on eradicating freedom in the world and replacing it with fanatic tyranny. Drawing on that clarity of vision, he has concluded that the old methods of defense, containment and deterrence, will not work and must be replaced by the new ones of preemption and regime change. Finally, he recognizes that the Struggle in which we are now engaged will be a Long one.

Rudy obviously has two goals in this essay. He wants us to carry away from it specific policy recommendations.  But he also, and even primarily, I think, wants us to carry away from it a specific impression of his political character, namely, that he is imbued with the same visionary idealism that propelled his great predecessors, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, into their confrontation with evil. However long the struggle he will not falter or flinch. If he does he will have beside him as an advisor a man whose intellectual strength and moral determination will once again stiffen his spine: Norman Podhoretz.

Should Rudy prove successful in his quest for power, we will, of course, change one Republican regime for another. Ideologically, though, things will remain the same. And we will have to appropriate from Podhoretz part of the subtitle of his new book: our struggle against the neocon worldview will be a long one indeed.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: