October 15, 2007

Why The West Will Win

Posted in Media, War on Terror at 7:20 pm by Caleb Winn

I have written in the past about Neoconservatism, especially the doctrine that we can democratize the world. This is not only, or even primarily, a military conflict. The use of force is like weeding a garden, removing petty tyrants so that democracy may flourish. The real power of Neoconservatism is cultural. America, the City on a Hill, is a beacon of hope that shines the light of freedom and prosperity around the world, urging all nations to follow us in the march toward liberty.

We are now engaged in an ideological conflict against Islamofascism. But just as we defeated communism, we shall be triumphant here as well, not only because of our military superiority, but because of the greatness of the ideology which we embody. The tyranny of the Jihadist’s mosque cannot compete with the greatness of American Gladiators.

Don’t believe me? Well, consider this. After decades of Cold War, American Gladiators debuted in September of 1989. In November of 1989, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. By December of 1991, The USSR itself was no more. The Battle for the Hearts and Minds was fought – and won – with foam jousting batons.

And now the show is coming back! It will be aired mid-season on NBC, hosted by no less illustrious a figure than Hulk Hogan! In the face of such resplendent, all-American Awesome.

So let us continue to oppose petty tyrants. Let us continue to weed this world of tin-pot dictators who abuse and enslave their own people. Let us stand up against evil ideologies.

And let us watch American Gladiators, let the world watch, and see why the West will win.

October 1, 2007

The Right Must Fight. (2/2)

Posted in War on Terror at 9:18 pm by Caleb Winn

Last week, I blogged about the Neoconservative principles behind the Bush Administration’s War on Terror. Specifically, I looked at Neoconservatism as a way of looking at history, and briefly touched on the role that this historiography may play in Bush’s eternal optimism. In this follow-up post, I’d like to delve into Neoconservatism in greater detail, examining what it mean, why it makes sense, and how it works in the real world. 

The October 2007 issue of Commentary Magazine examines the nature and ascendency of Neoconservatism in greater detail. Though the whole article is well worth reading, it is rather long. In particular, though, I think it would be useful to reference their definition of neoconservatism in order to have a more robust understanding of what exactly it entails. The author outlines four basic traits of neoconservative foreign policy; which are as follows:

What Neoconservatives Believe

  1. Neoconservatives are idealistic moralists. They do not subscribe to the doctrine of Realism. They don’t want to create a “balance of power” by reaching compromise with oppressive regimes. They want to bring down communism (Reagan’s “Evil Empire”) an the totalitarianism of rogue nations (Bush’s “Axis of Evil”). They believe that America has a moral obligation to confront tyranny. They believe that the United States is locked in a battle between Good and Evil, and understand foreign policy as a part of this global ideological struggle.
  2. Neoconservatives are internationalists. They tend to favor international cooperation wherever possible, whether through NATO, the UN, or some other international organization. More broadly, they recognize that the events of one nation or region are not isolated to that nation or region, and that freedom and tyranny tend to spill over into surrounding regions. Thus, they reject isolationism and seek to proactively confront threats abroad, rather than waiting for them to gather insurmountable strength.
  3. Neoconservatives are hawkish. They believe that military action is often necessary to break down repressive regimes that suppress ideological transformation.
  4. Neoconservatives are democratic apologists. That is to say, they see the ideas of Freedom and Democracy as inextricably linked. They do not support benevolent dictatorships, but want to establish real self-governance around the world, because Democracy is the only real guardian of Freedom, and the only really moral form of government.

These four basic principles of Neoconservative foreign policy are unmistakably the guiding forces behind Bush’s foreign policy, and his vision for a democratic Middle East. Since September 12th, 2001, President Bush has argued that the United States is locked in an epic struggle against an evil ideology that despises freedom, that we must work proactively to defeat this ideology internationally, that we must do so through our military might, and that we will achieve long-term victory through the Democratization of the Middle East. In President Bush’s vision, the hearts of men and women yearn to be free, and the good ol’ US of A must throw off the tyrannies that prevent their freedom so that they may join the ranks of Democratic nations and promote global peace, stability, and prosperity.

Why Neoconservatism Makes Sense

  1. This is a moral struggle, and we are on the side of the Good. America is not perfectly Good, and our enemies are not perfectly Evil. But the fight against Communism was a moral struggle against a truly Evil Empire, who trampled on human rights and murdered countless millions. The fight against Islamo-Fascist Terrorism is a moral battle as well. Saddam Huessein was a ruthless and immoral man. The Taliban was a tyrannical, brutally repressive government. We ought not stand aside and allow their ideology to fester.
  2. This is an unavoidable global conflict, whether we recognize that or not. Islamo-Fascist Terrorists attacked the United States in New York in 1993, in Saudi Arabia in 1996, in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, and in Yemen in 2000, all before the September 11th attacks. We cannot pretend that we will be left alone if only we keep a low profile. The strength of Islamo-Fascism in one nation threatens to spill over into others. And the establishment of Freedom can open the people’s eyes to an alternative. This is first and foremost an ideological battle, and it is one which must be waged globally if we hope to succeed.
  3. Military force is often necessary to remove tyrants. Creating a popular demand for democracy does little good if the people are precluded from self-rule by violent dictators. The global spread of freedom necessitates the overthrow of brutal dictators, even through military power. The people of Afghanistan could not be free as long as they were held under the boot of the Taliban. The military power of the United States, working with NATO allies, enabled them to pursue freedom. An entire nation held hostage was delivered.
  4. Democracy is the best way to preserve freedom and human rights. We may attempt to establish puppet leaders and benevolent, pro-US dictators, but this is often times not really a moral improvement. If the goal is to promote the global recognition of human rights, then we must move being the strategic interests of Realpolitik and strive to offer people a real chance at self-governance.

Neoconservatism represents truly noble goals, and attempts to deal head-on with some very real problems. But is it a tenable solution? Policy, and especially foreign policy, is not really very abstract. Ideas are tested in the Embassies and on the battlefields, and not ultimately in the classrooms or journals of academia. So to really grasp the strength or weakness of Neoconservatism, we need to analyze its basic tenets in light of reality.

Why Neoconservatism Might Just Work

  1. Freedom is more attractive than tyrrany.

    Those who oppose the United States do so with rabid ideological fervor, but they have little to offer the average person on the street. If given the choice between the tyranny of sharia law and the freedom of Western-style democracy, few would choose the former. If this really is an ideological struggle, we are on the winning side.

    The transformation of the Anbar province of Iraq is a good example of this. Though once an extremely hostile and violent place, Anbar has become a major success story in the War in Iraq. The common people have turned against the Al Qaeda-in-Iraq insurgency, cooperating with the United States and working toward a Democratic future. Many have scoffed at the idea that the United States can claim credit for the progress in Anbar, since it is the result of a change in the hearts and minds of the local people. But really, isn’t that the point? The transformation of Anbar shows the universal appeal of Democratic freedoms, and shows what can happen once a people reject tyranny.

  2. The Domino Effect Cuts Both Ways.

    Abhorrent ideologies like Communism and Islamo-Fascism may spread regionally, but freedom can do so as well. Success in one region provides an example and a model for those in surrounding areas, and creates and intellectual basis for future transformations.

    Early signs after the invasion of Iraq were very promising. The high level of voter turnout within Iraq itself was amazing. More interesting, Democratic progress in Iraq led to local elections in other nations in the region, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The Democratic progress in Iraq created a demand for increased democratic representation among the people throughout the region. A successful democracy in Iraq would be a “City on a Hill” that exposed the tyranny of its neighbors, increasing the people’s desire for liberty and spreading the ideological seeds of Democratization throughout the Middle East.

  3. Ideological and Military Progress Go Hand-In-Hand.
  4. Unfortunately, the Democratic gains in Iraq have not continued to flourish, or if they have they have been overshadowed by dramatic military losses. Sectarian violence has cast a shadow over many parts of the nation. The insurgent forces have waged an effective war against coalition troops, and sectarian violence has threatened to rip Iraq’s fledgling national government to pieces. This has outstripped the people’s desire for stable, democratic government.

    The ideological conflict is really the key to winning the military conflict here. If the people reject extremism and embrace national harmony, and if we have the troop presence to support them, we can stamp out the conflict. The power of the insurgency is in their ability to recruit from disaffected Iraqis, and to strike and then retreat to friendly shelters. If Iraqi people become less disaffected, and if the friendly shelters evaporate, the insurgency will dwindle and die. Commentary Magazine puts it this way:

    What is apparent is that most Iraqis want democracy, but their wishes are hostage to a sizable minority of violent recalcitrants, backed by outside force.

    This is where the success of Anbar may be encouraging. When the democratic majority turned against the violent minority and assisted the United States in rooting them out, they came to enjoy a far greater measure of peace and stability. This may serve as a model to other regions in Iraq.

    The troop surge shows signs of progress. Allocating more troops, and embedding them within Iraqi neighborhoods, has decreased U.S. deaths and diminished sectarian violence. If we do not cut our losses and run away, we may yet stem the violence long enough to see the people of Iraq re-assert their desire for peaceful, stable democracy.

  5. Democracy Really Does Work.

    It seems as if the Iraqi people are committed to a national, democratic government. Though there are a number of political benchmarks to be met, the people themselves have overwhelmingly participated in national elections, and almost universally oppose partitioning the country into Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish territories. This is especially interesting given the amount of sectarian violence. The people’s commitment to national unity belies the sectarian killings, and gives credence to the argument that a violent minority is exerting power against the wishes of a more peaceful democratic majority.

Success in Iraq, and in the global War on Terror, is far from certain. The Neoconservative vision of regional transformation may be irreparably damaged by the success of Islamo-fascist terrorism. Our ideological strengths may be obscured by military defeat, as in Southeast Asia after the Vietnam War. This is a generational struggle, and there will surely be many failures along the way, even if success is eventually attained.

But those claim that the War on Terror is nothing more than a bumper sticker, or say that Islamo-fascist terrorism should be treated as a simple police action, are missing the bigger picture. At its core, this is an ideological struggle between Freedom and Tyranny. It is a moral battle between Good and Evil. It is a battle worth fighting, and one which the enemies of Freedom will continue to fight whether we oppose them or not. We must use our military might to defend our own Freedoms and to extend those same Freedoms to those who are kept enslaved by petty tyrants and repressive ideologies.

The triumph of Good is not assured, but the greatest weapon in our favor is the natural thirst for liberty etched into the heart of each man and woman, if only we can fight to give them the chance to be free.

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.

July 31, 2007

Lincoln, suicide, and the War in Iraq

Posted in Politics, War on Terror at 10:19 pm by Caleb Winn

I’ve been reading through a truly amazing book called Lincoln’s Melancholy, which considers our 16th President’s lifelong struggle with depression, and the impact that it had on his life and work.

The book is interesting for its portrait of Lincoln as the victim of chronic depression. It reveals that Lincoln spoke often of committing suicide, and considered the subject seriously enough that he refused to carry a pocketknife out of fear that he might end his life in a moment of exceptionally dark despair. His friends put him on “suicide watch” on several occasions, worried that he might take his own life. He even appears to have written poetry about suicide, in which his first-person narrator acknowledges the terror of hell, but concludes that an eternity of damnation will only help him forget that he is damned while yet living, and calls his knife “my last — my only friend!” as it draws him from life to death.

The author points out that Lincoln’s explicit acknowledgment of Hell makes this a peculiar statement for a potential suicide. A true suicide doesn’t really give serious consideration to where he or she will go after death. Indeed, the point of suicidal depression isn’t to go to anywhere. The point is simply to go away. Quoting psychologist Edwin Shneidman, the author writes, “The single most dangerous word in all of suicidology is the four-letter word only,” as in “only one thing to do … only one way to get away from it … jump off something good and high.” There is no complicated, rational weighing of costs vs. benefits. The suicide is overwhelmed with a myopic understanding of his or her own misery, and unable to consider alternatives. The pessimism of melancholy leads to the despair of depression, and “cognitive restriction” renders the sufferer incapable of complex rational thought about how to improve his or her position.

This concept, especially the idea of “cognitive restriction,” is incredibly useful for understand Lincoln’s role in the Civil War, and perhaps in framing the debate over the War in Iraq.

Lincoln was President during the darkest time in American history. No period before or since presented such an enormous challenge, and no enemy before or since posed such a great threat to the future of the American experiment. If ever there was cause for a President to despair, it was the near-loss of the Civil War. And yet Lincoln, fully cognizant of the challenges ahead, pressed on. In many ways, his pessimistic, melancholy attitude served him well. He possessed a level of “depressive realism” that enabled him to recognize the real threats facing the Union, and this awareness enabled him to confront those threats head-on instead of hiding behind a veil of deluded optimism. Although he understood the gravity of his task, and although this understanding was indescribably discouraging at times, Lincoln did not experience “cognitive restriction”. He weighed options carefully and deliberately, neither overcome by despair nor blinded by foolish hope, and a led a nation forward through her darkest hour.

This stands in stark contrast to the leading voices in the debate over the War in Iraq. Anti-war Democrats are unwilling or unable to rationally consider alternatives to the status quo. The rhetoric of the anti-war movement is predominately depressive and reactionary, focusing on how miserable the current predicament is, but offering few positive steps to alleviate our national suffering, or the suffering of the people of Iraq. The liberal consensus calls for withdrawal, but does not consider the implications or consequences of such a retreat. Their thinking on the issue is binary: the choice is to remain, or to leave. To remain is an unacceptably bad fate, and so the only alternative is to pull out now. There is no real consideration of the likely outcome of such a withdrawal. There is no discussion about whether post-occupation Iraq will be better than the status quo. The anti-war movement is not moving forward towards any particular goal — certainly not toward peace. They merely want to move away from the insufferable state in which we live, and the only way to do that is by giving up. Psychologically speaking, this reeks of the “cognitive restriction” of a suicide, whose thoughts are so dominated by an obsessive awareness of misery that escape becomes the only possible choice, even if the so-called escape leaves the person worse off than ever before.

Surely there must be a middle ground between the Administration’s blind, unwavering optimism, and the Democratic Party’s cognitive paralysis. Surely there must be a path that takes us between ignorant bliss and depressive suicide. Where are the leaders who can understand our challenges, but not be incapacitated by despair? Where are the leaders who can recognize the difficulties that lie ahead, and summon the fortitude to press on and overcome them? Where is our Abraham Lincoln?

And would we recognize him if we saw him?