Three weeks ago, Victor Davis Hanson published a newspaper version of his article titled "Firm Idealism Will Sustain War On Terror." His web site uses the alternate phrase "Tough Idealism." Either way, he has done us a service. He has captured in two words the logic of the state: power cloaked in idealistic and ostensibly moral causes.
Two days ago, in my article "Occupation Hazards," I wrote: "The state’s two methods of enlisting the population in its causes are the scare tactic and the appeal to morality. Whenever the ruling powers call for more power to battle enemies or to achieve moral goals, the first response in defense of liberty must be a firm u2018No!’" Mr. Hansen’s "Tough Idealism" combines these two methods in two words. Tough idealism is a call to arms to spread the ideal of the moment, which is democracy.
So I say "No" to Mr. Hanson. I say "No" to the Iraq Study Group, President Bush, or anyone else calling for more troops in Iraq. I say "No," stop selling us bloody policies that make us less, not more, safe. Stop drumming up false idealism realized by blood and death.
Hanson shoots two arrows at the minds and hearts of his readers. His poison-tipped darts have two messages: Throw our minds and bodies against the bloody fascist enemy who has bloodied us (tough), and throw ourselves behind the moral duty of helping democratic reformers fight terrorists (idealism). Fight the war on terror for good and right, two for the price of one, a bargain. Yes, it is a bargain — a devil’s bargain.
Whether called tough idealism or firm idealism, the phrase captures in two words the two statist (anti-liberty) appeals: Give us more power to battle enemies (be tough), and achieve moral goals with the sword (the statist’s idealism).
Hanson has done us a service. He has distilled the essence of the state into two words: tough idealism. The state has a monopoly of violence in a region. To do its job, whatever the state conceives its job to be, it has to be firm or tough. It can’t be Mr. Nice. To be more of what it is, it has to hold and use more power. The state’s compass needle points in one direction, toward power, toward the tough. Unless some other force, like citizen resistance, deflects that needle, it will insist on moving in that one direction.
And to whatever uses the state’s managers decide to put that power, they will be called good and moral. Whatever purposes the state chooses will be termed idealistic, be they helping old people live, freeing slaves, going to the moon, making electricity out of garbage, or shocking and awing Baghdad. The denizens of the state are just as human as those whom they dominate. They necessarily think and speak in moral language. They may twist and pervert that language. They may combine it in unspeakable ways with toughness and power, but they will still consider what they do in service to moral ideals. The greatest murderers of the twentieth century, Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Pol Pot, you name them; the men who headed killer states, they all killed for the sake of some ideals.
And so Mr. Hanson has done us a service by coining the phrase "Tough Idealism." It tells us what the state is and must be. Mr. Hanson only asks for the U.S. state to be more of what it is. If the state has a Platonic Form from which derives its essence, Hanson logically wants it to be more perfect in achieving that form.
To what does tough idealism lead? It leads to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to Dresden, to the killing fields, to Siberian death camps, to Darfur, to the genocide of Armenians, to trench warfare, and to Baghdad. You wonder, where is the idealism? It is there, or it was. But the toughness obliterates it after awhile. Idealism drenched in blood shows us the state’s ultimate end, its compass point: skulls and bones, rotting corpses, death and mutilation, pain and suffering.
Mr. Hanson’s counsel is the counsel of death cloaked in the language of a Sunday sermon. He is an unordained preacher in the church of death. The same can be said of many of our "great" presidents and many of the "great" leaders anointed as saints by historians. They are great in destructiveness, desolation, and death.
The 70 percent majority who now disapprove of the war are disapproved of by Hanson, who deems them fickle. Could it be that the public at large recognizes senseless destruction when it sees it? Probably so. The public favors "Tough Realism." Let the state use its power toward ostensibly ideal aims, but let it use that power realistically. No sense jumping in between two gangs shooting at one another. The public has not yet realized that the compass needle will always try to point back in the same direction.
The steadfast Hanson insists we follow the logic of the state, tough idealism. That way lies death. If George W. Bush wants to democratize Iraq, let it be done. Why? Toughness and idealism, joined like rifle and bullet, are the answer. The idealistic side according to Hanson: The "U.S. has been far too friendly to atrocious regimes in the Middle East." The state should have been more morally upright. It should not have acted cynically. It should not have cavorted with repugnant insurgents like bin Laden and tyrants like Saddam Hussein. And all of this manipulation failed to work anyway. Instability merely increased.
The tough side according to Hanson: The U.S. appeased terrorists for 20 years. It left Saddam in place. It fired off a few useless missiles or filed useless indictments. And what was the result: Sept. 11.
In other words, the U.S. state was neither tough enough nor idealistic enough in the 1980s and 1990s. The reasons for this were a policy of soft realism, no messianic leader like George W. Bush, and no catalyst for action, that being 9/11.
And so Hanson wants to replace softness with toughness, and realism with idealism. His logic is impeccable. If the U.S. is to be an empire, then it must behave like an empire. Clinton was a poor emperor, too soft and too realistic; the current Bush is much better, tougher and idealistic.
But Hanson does not see far enough. When the needle swings all the way to the highest degree on the compass of tough idealism, what will be the result? Millions of dead Muslims, millions of dead Iranians, many dead Israelis, and many dead Americans, and who knows what else. Replacing a soft empire with a tough empire merely increases the death toll. Idealism in the service of toughness ends up as toughness. Power ends up as death and destruction, pre-emptive wars, nuclear weapons hitting nuclear targets, and guerillas blowing up American cities.
Why doesn’t Hanson recognize this? First, he’s fatalistic. He thinks the U.S. is hemmed in by stubborn facts that won’t go away. These include "Saudi subsidies to jihadists, Pakistani sanctuary for them, and Egyptian propaganda…," and al-Qaeda’s leaders still have caliphate ambitions. Second, he has limited vision. These facts, he believes, can be dealt with in only one way: "a resolute U.S. and Middle Eastern societies that elect their own leaders…" Third, he is a true believer in tough idealism as "the only right and smart thing to do."
Fourth, and most important, is the implicit assumption that the U.S. is "good," that it will use its power to effect "good" ends. The U.S., unlike all other states and empires in history, is the anointed or savior state, called into history by various gods of old like Abraham Lincoln, in order to relieve the world of its sinful states. It will go forth into battle and bring about the kingdom of democratic good upon the earth. States will be redeemed and history will end. This vision is satanic. It can only end in death and destruction. This is the way of all other attempts by states to impose their end-of-history visions on the world.
Hanson’s thinking is stuck in a circular rut. He idealistically wants to put in place a world without evil rulers, and he sees no other way to accomplish that except by the power of the U.S. Therefore, the only logical solution in his mind is tough idealism. The U.S. will use its power to police the world and remake it.
If Hanson would look back at the retrenchments of the French and British empires that occurred in the last century, he would find a better model for the U.S. When France got out of Vietnam, that ended a lot of problems for them. When Great Britain got out of India and Palestine, they got out from under a number of problems. Let the U.S. remove itself from the Middle East and Central Asia, and mirabile dictu, worries about Saudi jihadists, Pakistani sanctuaries, and Egyptian propaganda will dissipate. The peoples living in those areas will take care of their own problems. If jihadists are a problem, the local governments or peoples will have no qualms in executing a few.
Let the U.S. state stop trying to save the world, and we will all be amazed at how quickly our foreign difficulties, including the jihadist problem and the Iraq mess, will diminish.
The U.S. state needs a policy of not in your back yard, not in your house, and not on your land — no intrusions. In two words, the U.S. state’s policy should be "Firm Restraint." The U.S. should firmly restrain itself from intruding in other people’s problems and territories. Let the Louis Armstrongs and Dizzy Gillespies, the Hollywood movies, the Dell computers, the Disney rides, the Colgate-Palmolives, the Wal-Marts, or whatever else other peoples wish to import from America be our ambassadors. Let the U.S. stop trying to make the world safe or safe for democracy or free from terror or whatever the next crusade is. Let Americans make peace instead of the U.S. state making war.
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York.