Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The lock and key

Robert Mayer at Publius Pundit responds to the message in President Bush's State of the Union Address with his heart, but can he respond, with equal enthusiasm with his intellect? Bush struck a chord near and dear to Mayer and to anyone who has been as involved with the Third World. Bush reaffirmed, rhetorically at least, his commitment to freedom. And freedom, which Americans notice no more than they do the air, is not taken for granted in most parts of the world.


Tonight, President Bush wears a passive light blue tie. The fact is that among many foreign policy gurus, realpolitik is back on the dinner table because democracy has failed in the Middle East. Third Worldists contend that the Islamic and Arab world in particular simply is not ready for democracy. There are now more skeptics than believers, and even the administration itself has not been so noisy about the subject in the past year. The fact that President Bush tells us tonight that he still believes, however, is heartening. ... President Bush has ideologically always been right on target. Advancing and preserving democracy is and always will be in the best interests of the people of the world as well as of the United States.

"... always will be in the best interests of the people of the world as well as of the United States." Find words, but there is the little matter of implementation. To set against Mayer's intuitive attraction to freedom, there is this warning speech from James Webb as quoted at the Belgravia Dispatch. He argues that good intentions are worthless without competence; a Children's Crusade; the betrayal of ideals.

On the political issues ­ those matters of war and peace, and in some cases of life and death ­ we trusted the judgment of our national leaders. We hoped that they would be right, that they would measure with accuracy the value of our lives against the enormity of the national interest that might call upon us to go into harm's way. We owed them our loyalty, as Americans, and we gave it. But they owed us­ sound judgment, clear thinking, concern for our welfare, a guarantee that the threat to our country was equal to the price we might be called upon to pay in defending it.

By Webb's standard not just President Bush, but a several generations of American leaders stands condemned. Not just Johnson or Carter. Nor even the first Bush, who planted the seeds for a long-drawn out confrontation in the Middle East whose bitter crop is now fully springing to life; but the whole sorry era of the 1990s as America sleepwalked into a war against it of which it was not even aware. Of all the places where Webb's words ought be inscribed without the slightest irony, there is none better than the base of what was once the World Trade Center.

Yet the fault does not lie -- at least fundamentally -- with individual politicians. The world is in the middle of an epochal transition, a transition with various names. It has been known as a Clash of Civilizations; a shift from the Nation State to the Market State; the showdown between McWorld and the New Caliphate or the end times in advance of the Hidden Imam. But whatever the nomenclature, this epoch constitutes a challenge for which no Western leader as yet has clear answers. Not to the question of what to do with Europe's burgeoning Muslim communities; nor to the deadly rivalry between Sunni and Shi'a across the Middle East; nor to the challenge of radical Islam the world over. Webb is right to expect "sound judgment, clear thinking, concern for our welfare" and guarantees of safety from President Bush. But what better satisfaction can he obtain from Pelosi, Obama, Murtha or Hillary Clinton, who may not only not know the answer, they may not even understand the question. Is there no balm in Gilead? None. But that doesn't mean we can't start to invent some. Both Iraq and 9/11 are examples of challenges posed by the new epoch that won't go away. And they will not go away until freedom, at least as expressed as the absence the mental tyranny embodied by the toxic ideology embodied by radical theocracies, is widespread over the earth. Robert Mayer is right. And so is James Webb. Strategy and operational competence are meaningless without each other. A thumbs up for freedom. And two thumbs up for attaining freedom through learned competence.

6 Comments:

Blogger Ed onWestSlope said...

I agree with Wretchard " Robert Mayer is right. And so is James Webb."

My disappointment is that with over 100 years of experience, strength, weakness and a fair bit of abject foolishness, the problem of the Barbary States has changed very little, except everyone's capability for destruction is larger by orders of magnitudes.

I will admit that I am more comfortable with what seems to be shaking out regarding Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan ... and appalled with Washinton, Paris, London and on and on and on.

1/24/2007 03:21:00 PM  
Blogger Meme chose said...

By Webb's standard not just President Bush, but a several generations of American leaders stands condemned.

The hallmark of the left in our age is limitless vanity, as they proclaim that the minimum mark for what is acceptable now must be so far above the best achieved by any prior generation. How fatuous, how infantile this will seem when viewed from the future.

This resembles nothing so much as the announced programs of the first generation of leaders in post-colonial Africa. All proclaimed that their countries would catch up with Europe and the US in just one generation. All have by now been shown to be empty-headed blowhards at best, and have left their economies and their societies in ruins. They wasted an entire generation's resources on goals which were nothing more than fine-sounding strings of fashionable buzzwords, with no substance or coherent thought behind them.

1/24/2007 04:19:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmo said...

" . . . minimum mark for what is acceptable now must be so far above the best achieved by any prior generation."

Well said, meme.

Reading Webb and the comments that followed, and listening to the overall hysterical tone of argument over Iraq, I'm struck by the outsized tone of distain and hyperbole.

Critics ocillate between self-satisfied tut-tutting over the messiness of it all, to shrieking in absolutes and making sweeping declarative judgements that betray an absence of historical perspective -- even when flashing their supposed command of historical fact.

Early supporters want some sort of a 'Mulligan' for reasons that would sound sheepish coming from a child caught raiding the cookie jar. Early critics want to declare the war over and lost, so thay can claim they were right all along.

One would think that this is the first war ever to feature faulty intelligence, botched operations, changes in tactics, government dissembling, miscalculations, rough interrogation, the indignities of wartime incarceration, enemy propaganda, or difficult decisions about going to war in the first place.

Greatest blunder, they say. Bigger than getting snookered at Yalta or losing China?

Worst presidency, they carp As if we'd trade in our roaring economy and stock market for Carter-era stagflation and supine foreign policy.

Blair and Rumsfeld war criminals, they howl. Well, better issue posthumous indictments from The Hague for Churchill and FDR.

We are terribly unserious people facing a terribly serious challenge.

1/24/2007 05:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To answer your question, Wretchard, would take more time than I have at this hour of the night. However, I will have something for you tomorrow, and I think the progressive debate could lead somewhere worthwhile.

However, there is a roadblock that you identified (perhaps without realizing) which keeps us from delving very deeply into the issue. The larger problem and point that I was trying to make was that, after two years, freedom and democracy as a policy in and of itself that many influential policymakers no longer find it to be a worthy and realistic endeavor. Not only that, but the American people themselves, disillusioned with the war in Iraq, are no longer inspired to believe in such words. Not to mention democracy as a strategy!

Perhaps why my post was heavier on the rhetoric was precisely because of that; we are still stuck at step one. After two years, there heavy opposition to democratization as a policy, and even greater divisions within that camp itself. There has to be something of an agreement -- dare I say consensus -- that freedom and democracy are the answer before you can get into the details of it, because if you don't then it's all theoretical and impossible to undertake.

If James Webb wants a competent strategy, that's great, but there has to be terms to the agreement. We have to be working under the same set of facts and presumptions, otherwise debate is worthless.

1/24/2007 05:54:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

If the USA had a superpower to shepard us through our early years of democracy, might the superpower not have concluded that its experiment in democracy had failed in the early 1960's?

Indeed, there are Americans today - and many more back then - who believe that is what occurred.

1/25/2007 05:56:00 AM  
Blogger Wu Wei said...

I think Webb is fundamentally wrong to say:

> On the political issues ­ those matters of war and peace, and in some cases of life and death ­ we trusted the judgment of our national leaders. We hoped that they would be right

It was never just "trust" but was leadership, the president convincing the country that we needed to act, and reassuring them that he valued the lives of the soldiers. There was always opposition and always questions. World War II is an example, how up until Pearl Harbor President Roosevelt had to battle Congress for every dollar spent for military needs. Leaders like Winston Churchill didn't just ask to be trusted, but spent endless hours reassuring parliament and the voters.

President Bush did a decent job of explaining Iraq in his speech. VP Cheney had a good follow up interview, and the White House actually fought back against a Nancy Peolsi smear. The key to the war on terror is if the Bush Team keeps this up day after day, like the anti-war group does.

1/25/2007 06:51:00 AM  

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