Friday, February 25, 2005

That’s funny, I was preparing to post a response to this Buchanan article when Mat made the previous post.

I’m always heartened when Buchanan is on the other side of an issue. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a smart guy, but I also think he is pretty consistently wrong.

One of the main differences I have with this particular article is his interpretation of mission creep. I’m not entirely sure how to interpret his reference to Lincoln. Is Buchanan saying that Lincoln didn’t see the Civil War as a war to save the union in the beginning? I think he did. I would have expected Buchanan to use the argument that abolition wasn’t the reason for the war until the emancipation – that would have been wrong also.

Next, Buchanan sited Wilson’s changed rhetoric from not understanding the reason for war in 1916 to proclaiming it a “war to end all wars” and “to protect democracy” in 1917. But I think Buchanan glosses over an underlying consistency in Wilson’s worldview that ran beneath both his pacifist and wartime positions that was tied to his evangelical background. The immediate catalysts for wars may have been tied to “lesser interests” but the big picture reasons for those wars was always present, even if the participants were not able to see it so defined. In other words, the contingencies that led Europe into the Great War (like the Schiefflin Plan) may be “lesser” things, but the rift between a more enlightened west and a more autocratic east (along with perpetual national interests) was the major issue that made that conflict inevitable, and it was present well before the war (and beyond, in this case). Likewise, slavery was the major issue surrounding the Civil War – and the fissure between north and south was present from the first slave ship landing in the colonies. All the other inequities between the two sides (i.e. industrial strength and economic output) were a result of this institution.

Regarding the spread of democracy: I would say that as our world becomes more intertwined, we increasingly rely on the benevolence and freedom of other parts of the world to keep trade and prosperity open for everyone. Personally, I don’t care what the 9/11 hijackers were thinking when they were recruited into al Qaeda or when they crashed into our buildings. To me, the root cause of their actions was not the humiliation they felt because of a U.S. presence on holy land (though they may think so), but rather a closed society that blamed others for its own deficiencies, causing pent up frustration and inspiring radical actions because no other method of venting was available. True, the U.S. reliance on oil has fed that problem, but it didn’t cause it. And that reliance will not disappear by our recognition of it. It will take years and years for the U.S. to “invent our way out” as Kerry liked to say. What we can do is topple regimes like Saddam’s and work with the people to form a representative government where an Arab can vote with a ballot and not a belt bomb. To do nothing is to promote endless collisions. Consider the trend of terrorist attacks that led up to 9/11. With each inaction of ours, the terrorists became increasingly bold and their attacks became more deadly.

Also, the world has changed since our forefathers espoused the virtues of isolationism (never mind that Jefferson sent our navy to N. Africa to fight Barbary piracy). Our ocean buffers are not what they once were. Maintaining old friendships (as Buchanan later brings up as a reason for non intervention) is not always in our national interest – or, so thought Washington in his second inaugural address. I think Bush picks up on Washington’s point regarding alliances when, during his recent trip, he says that they must be based on shared values. The daunting task of fighting a seemingly endless war against terrorism is not dissimilar to the argument for pursuing a missile defense. What seems unattainable now will always be so if your do not work towards a goal. However, steadfast devotion to an end will make eventually make it attainable. We are not going to directly confront every autocratic nation and force democracy on them at once, since that is impossible. But, by taking the spread of freedom off the back burner and making it a central focus of our foreign policy, we will chisel away at the tyrannies of the world. Are we going to depose Musharraf because he isn’t elected and has postponed democratic reforms? No. Should we? No. Will we be able to push reforms on Pakistan after the swamps of radical Islam are drained from Afghanistan? Very possibly.

I must admit that I don’t understand Buchanan’s pessimism about the war on terror. Where he sees a wasted $200 billion and 1,400 lost American lives, I see something else. I see a budding representative government in Iraq where Shiites have to deal with Kurds to build a coalition government, where both of those groups seem willing to include Sunnis who sat out of the voting process. I see Lebanese protestors emboldened by Iraq and the Ukraine to march against Syrian occupation. I see the dynamics of Palestinian politics in a much needed flux instead of the decades old static cesspool, which Saddam supported, under Arafat. Sharon is gaining ground on a proposed pullout of the Gaza strip. I see the Israelis willing to complete their fence, which will improve the circumstances on the ground in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Who knows, it may set up a final phase for a permanent settlement. I see where 140,000 Saudis actually picked some leaders themselves and where anti Mubarak demonstrations were allowed to happen….these all bode well for the freedom of the region and they all stem from Bush’s foreign policy.

I think Buchanan’s isolationism is a major reason that the paleo-cons are becoming less and less significant in conservative circles.

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