The Snarls of Empire, and a Way Out

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Dinesh D’Souza has evidently landed himself in hot water. The resultant heat he’s enduring is saddening, but not really surprising, as he’s always been one of the braver neo-conservatives around. Had he matched the profile of the typical "chicken hawk," he never would have written Illiberal Education until long after the PC brouhaha was over. Instead of it being published in 1991, it would have probably hit the shelves in 1996 or so.

Presently, he is finding out that bravery carries risks. He’s even faced criticism from within his own ranks, which he has undertaken to rebut courtesy of National Review Online. His latest book, The Enemy At Home, has evidently trod on a lot of beliefs, or preconceptions, about al-Qai’da and the threat of Islamist extremism.

His current travails do parallel a kind of funk settling over the neo-conservative movement. They no longer have the "mo." It’s back to the bookworm slot for them, and away from the recent "General Staffer" slot that they have become accustomed to. Having stuck their necks out, they are discovering that exposed necks can be poked at, if not cut at. It’s only a matter of time before the neo-conservative spirit fades into the kind of anchor bias peculiar to nostalgia. The kind that’s good for reunion bashes, for smiling over old episodes of Alias or another show of its kin, and for brag stories for the kids.

The combination of Wilsonism and the "War on Terror" is clearly unraveling. On the one hand, the current bellicosity towards Iran is dissipating, because no casus belli ad hoc can be found that’s consistent with the Bush administration’s earlier justifications for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. It is an easily found fact that Iran is essentially a democracy. (The Assembly of Experts is an elected body.) The Great Provocateur, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is the elected President there; Wilsonism cannot exactly be stretched to cover "the Iranians didn’t vote the right way." In addition, the Iranian State has made no provably aggressive moves against United States forces and shelters no known al-Qai’da bases. President Ahmadinejad has confined himself to verbal threats against America’s ally Israel, and hasn’t followed through militarily in the way that Saddam Hussein did. As far as the potentiality of nuclear weapons is concerned, recalling that there is already an extant "Islamic Bomb" in the Middle East should be enough to cool the blood-ardor amongst normal members of the U.S. citizenry. The country that unveiled it in 1998 was none other than Pakistan, a U.S. ally.

Speaking of Pakistan, that ally of the United States happens to be the most probable location for the training bases of a newly resurgent al-Qai’da. As you may expect, the Pakistani State, like all States, is subject to certain inefficiencies, through no fault of its officials’ own. They can’t help it if al-Qai’da is holed up in the badlands somewhere near the Afghani border. They’ve done their best. Can’t really fault them for it, etc., etc. It would take a lot of explaining from the U.S. government if it were to be decided in D.C. that Pakistan’s inefficiencies of government warranted a U.S. invasion of the place. Especially given the fact that Pakistan is a U.S. ally.

Better luck next "mo." The crystalline clarity of a world with an easily defined and isolable enemy is slowly clouding into the normal world. Terrorists who are smart enough to kill thousands of U.S. citizens are also smart enough to locate their bases under the jurisdiction — but not under the eye — of a State that is allied to the U.S. government. This geopolitical normality also includes bluffing, and scoring points on the world stage for getting the other players’ goats. A kind of world fit not for a king, but for the gray flannelites that habituate in Foggy Bottom, not to mention in non-affiliated but nevertheless associated bars and alky shops.

Some of the neo-conservatives seem to be aware of this fade-to-grey. As D’Souza has disclosed, there is hope that the liberals will jump on board the war effort. This initiative, clearly, is the end of ye olde "rope of hope." What can you say about a group of buckos who have forgotten the plainly obvious fact, one obvious even to a Canadian with a mere minor in history, that every time the liberals jump on board the War Party, part of the liberals’ war effort consists of stomping down on the conservatives? In modern times, the only period of American history when the liberal foot didn’t stomp on the conservative face, while liberals were prosecuting a war, was the time when the hippies were running rampant. Given Bush’s current approval ratings, and the result of the latest election, what canny Democrat would agree to such a compromise unless, or until, the Democratic Party is in the captain’s chair?

Yep, if those coalition-hopers get their wish, then the current divorce proceedings between conservatism and libertarianism will come to an abrupt end. What will replace it will be the same old fusionism, under different leadership. The same old Coalition of the Remnant.

Instead of helping the liberals to stick the sole-side of the boot in their face, conservatives have an easier option, even if it involves eating a little crow: reconsidering isolationism.

According to the introduction of The Enemy At Home, al-Qai’da, pre-9/11, was encouraged by what they considered to be U.S. "weakness" in the Middle East:

During the Clinton administration, liberal foreign policy conveyed to Bin Laden and his co-conspirators a strong impression of American vacillation, weakness, and even cowardice. When Al Qaeda attacked and killed a handful of Marines in Mogadishu in 1993, the Clinton administration withdrew American troops from that country. When Al Qaeda orchestrated the bombings of the American embassies in East Africa in 1998 and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000, President Clinton responded with a handful of desultory counterstrikes that did little harm to Al Qaeda. These American actions, Bin Laden has confessed, emboldened him to strike directly at America on September 11, 2001.

Given his underlying assumptions, D’Souza has a point. What, though, if this explanation is modified to, "Bin Laden and Al Qai’da was encouraged by the apparent weakness of U.S. troops that were sent to a place where they had no business being"? This does tend to make for the kind of hesitancy and ineffectuality that encourages enemies.

If foreign adventures are put a stop to, then the U.S. military will show none of that "vacillation, weakness and even cowardice" while abroad because troops won’t be sent abroad. Instead of clumsily lurching towards Empire, the U.S. military’s presence will be confined to defense of the U.S. itself, a task that American citizens have shown consistent strength and resolve in. Ordinary people understand very well what "our soil has been attacked, and we need to clobber the invaders" means, and requires. They don’t need to be put through a sell job to grasp the implications of that policy.

In addition, a strict policy of non-intervention will render American cultural exports geopolitically harmless. The rest of the world can rest easy, once it’s clear that American cultural norms, whether they be religious or secular, whether traditionalist or "progressive," will not be crammed down their throat through American geopolitical meddling. Because the rest of the world will interact with American culture as consumers, rather than as would-be subjects, they will have the choice of taking it or leaving it. With respect to liberal secularism, the world’s traditionalist faithful will have the option of discouraging it through withholding of dollars. As a result, American culture mavens, including the liberals amongst them, will get the message that some wares are wanted, while others just aren’t. Consequently, they’ll have a sense of what is really demanded by the rest of the world’s consumers.

Wouldn’t it be a more secure world if a would-be convert to radical Islamism turns away because it can offer him or her nothing that a simple boycott couldn’t? Especially if said potential recruit is already used to the lifestyle of the sovereign consumer?

Daniel M. Ryan [send him mail] is a Canadian with a past. He’s currently wearing out his thumb with pen and paper.

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