September 26, 2007

The Right are Mighty? (1/2)

Posted in War on Terror at 10:31 pm by Caleb Winn

… with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in . . . to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations. ~ Abraham Lincoln, March 4, 1865.

The Rise (and Fall?) of Neo-Conservativism

President Bush campaigned in 2000 as an isolationist, who did not believe that it was the U.S. responsibility to be global peacekeepers or policemen. After 9/11, however, all of that changed. Since that fateful day, the U.S. has pursued an aggressive foreign policy, not only defending our economic and security interests, but actively seeking to institute democratic regimes around the world, beginning in the Middle East, with Iraq. This belief – that the projection of U.S. Power can promote global stability by planting the seeds of Democracy in foreign soil – is the doctrine of Neo-Conservativism. To quote Bush’s 2nd Inaugural:

The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world. ~ President George W. Bush, January 20, 2005.

From 2002-2004, it seemed as if the Neo-Conservatives ruled Washington D.C. Their idea of promoting Democracy through the military might of the United States was the guiding force of the Bush Administration’s foreign policy. Their ideas predated the Bush Administration, but after 9/11 their promise of global peace through universal democracy and freedom seemed to be the answer to the most pressing questions facing America. A global rebirth of freedom would, they argued, promote the security interests of the United States! After years of supporting tin-pot dictators in defense of national security, here at least we could unite our ideological commitments with our pragmatic concerns! As President Bush said in his Second Inaugural, “America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one.”

The American people stood firmly behind it as long as it looked like it would be successful. For all the talk of “values voters” deciding the election, it’s worth noting that Bush made gains over his 2000 numbers in virtually every single demographic group. While so-called “values voters” were important, most non-evangelical voters supported Bush in greater numbers than they had in 2004, because they stood behind their wartime President.

However, as the war has dragged on and more Americans have died overseas, the people of these United States have lost their stomach for the conflict. As an intellectual force, Neo-Conservativism is out of fashion. But it still reverberates within the halls of the West Wing, and Bush’s policies and attitudes toward the War in Iraq reflect this still today.

In the face of plummeting public support for the War in Iraq, the Bush Administration has stayed the course, seemingly inflexible, unchanging, and unwilling to learn from their mistakes. Bush seems unflappably optimistic, convinced that temporary set-backs will not forestall eventual U.S. victory and the democratic transformation of the Middle East. Many consider this a mark of stupidity. In reality, this optimistic outlook makes perfect sense within a Neo-Conservative intellectual framework.

In short, President Bush and his Neo-Conservative advisors are confident that we will win, because we are right.

The (Inexorable?) End of History

It is impossible to understand Neo-Conservative doctrine without doing so in light of the post-Cold War environment. Many leading NeoCon thinkers and officials were movers and shakers during the West’s prolonged conflict with the U.S.S.R., and their ideas were formed against that historical backdrop.

This historical perspective is really crucial because Neo-Conservativism depends on a certain linear view of history. In the minds of Neo-Conservativism, history is not a random series of events, the conjunction of this person and that in a particular time and place, write large over millennia. Rather, Neo-Conservatives tend to hold to a more Hegelian dialectic view, that history has a story, a purposefulness, an “end.” (That is, a telos, not a literal termination point.)

Probably the best example of this view is Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 book, The End Of History, And The Last Man. In it, he maintains that the 20th century was a grand ideological battlefield, on which political systems were developed, tested, and discarded. Monarchy, Facism, Totalitarianism, Communism, and Democracy have all had their day in the sun. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Fukuyama argues, the verdict is definitively in: Liberal Democracy wins. The ideas that individuals have certain inalienable rights, that governments exist for the people, and that the state should derive its power from the consent of the governed, is Fukuyama’s “End of History”.

Ideological Inevitability

This perspective leads to a couple of implications:

First, President Bush understands the battle with Islamo-facism as an ideological conflict, rather than a merely military action. Success doesn’t come through killing our enemies or conquering their lands. Success in this conflict through conquering their hearts and minds. The War in Iraq isn’t about beating the insurgents physically. It’s about discrediting their system of thought in the eyes of the Iraqi people, and providing enough stability and security to allow the Iraqi people to establish self-governance based on freedom and human rights.

Second, President Bush believes that Democracy will – must – win this conflict. The success of Liberal Democracy is inevitable given human nature. It’s not necessarily that God is watching out to make sure that the Good Guys win. Rather, mankind naturally cries out for freedom, and given the ideological choice between the two, Freedom will always prevail. As President Bush said in his recent speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars:

The greatest weapon in the arsenal of democracy is the desire for liberty written into the human heart by our Creator. So long as we remain true to our ideals, we will defeat the extremists in Iraq and Afghanistan. We will help those countries’ peoples stand up functioning democracies in the heart of the broader Middle East. And when that hard work is done and the critics of today recede from memory, the cause of freedom will be stronger, a vital region will be brighter, and the American people will be safer.

To Be Continued…

This provides the intellectual framework within which we should try to understand Bush’s foreign policy, especially the War in Iraq. But what are the strengths and weaknesses of this approach? And how is it working out in the real world? I will explore these more specific, practical question in greater depth soon.


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