Food for Foreign Policy Thought

 Posted by on 12 November 2004 at 8:28 am  Uncategorized
Nov 122004

A few weeks ago, Paul presented a short case in favor of voting for Bush to our local Objectivist discussion group, FROG. He gathered an interesting collection of quotes into a handout, which I have reproduced below. Given that that the election has already passed, you may safely assume that the commentaries below are not narrowly focused on the election, but rather concern the wider issues of voting, foreign policy, religion in America, and so on. (However, you make not safely assume that I agree with all that is below.)

“How to Judge a Political Candidate,” Ayn Rand, The Objectivist Newsletter, March 1964

In view of the general confusion on this subject, it is advisable to remind prospective voters of a few basic considerations, as guidelines in deciding what one can properly expect of a political candidate, particularly of a presidential candidate.

One cannot expect, nor is it necessary, to agree with a candidate’s total philosophy — only with his political philosophy (and only in terms of essentials). It is not a Philosopher-King that we are electing, but an executive for a specific, delimited job. It is only political consistency that we can demand of him; if he advocates the right political principles for the wrong metaphysical reasons, the contradiction is his problem, not ours.

A contradiction of that kind, will, of course, hamper the effectiveness of his campaign, weaken his arguments and dilute his appeal — as any contradictions undercut any man’s efficacy. But we have to judge him as we judge any work, theory, or product of mixed premises: by his dominant trend.

A vote for any candidate does not constitute an endorsement of his entire position, not even of his entire political position, only of his basic political principles…

It is the basic — and, today, the only — issue by which a candidate must be judged: freedom vs. statism.

If a candidate evades, equivocates and hides his stand under a junk-heap of random concretes, we must add up those concretes and judge him accordingly. If his stand is mixed, we must evaluate it by asking: Will he protect freedom or destroy the last of it? Will he accelerate, delay, or stop the march towards statism?

Special Providence, Walter Russell Mead, 1999

Americans through the centuries seem to have had four basic ways of looking at foreign policy, which have reflected contrasting and sometimes complementary ways of looking at domestic policy as well.

Hamiltonians regard a strong alliance between the national government and big business as the key to both domestic stability and to effective action abroad, and they have long focused on the nation’s need to be integrated into the global economy on favorable terms.

Wilsonians believe that the United States has both a moral obligation and an important national interest in spreading American democratic and social values throughout the world creating a peaceful international community that accepts the rule of law.

Jeffersonians hold that American foreign policy should be less concerned about spreading democracy abroad than about safeguarding it at home; they have historically been skeptical about the Hamiltonian and Wilsonian policies that involve the United States with unsavory allies abroad or that increase the risks of war.

Finally, a large populist school I call Jacksonian believes that the most important goal of the U.S. government in both foreign and domestic policy should be the physical security and the economic well-being for the American people.

Conversation with Walter Russell Mead: Four Themes in US Foreign Policy,” 2003

And Jacksonians, when it comes to war, don’t believe in limited wars. They don’t believe, particularly, in the laws of war. War is about fighting, killing, and winning with as few casualties as possible on your side. But you don’t worry about casualties on the other side. That’s their problem. They shouldn’t have started the war if they didn’t want casualties.

The idea is: Don’t bother with people abroad, unless they bother you. But if they attack you, then do everything you can.

Jacksonian Foreign Policy,” Steven DenBeste, 8/11/2002

The whole point of Jacksonianism is “You leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone. You play fair with me and I’ll play fair with you. But if you fuck with me, I’ll kill you.”

The Jacksonian Tradition and the War in Iraq,” John Moser, May 2004

And then there are the Jacksonians. Unlike the other three, they are not likely to hold important positions in the media, the business community, academia, or the foreign policy establishment. However, they do make up a substantial part of the working-class and middle-class population, and they are well represented in Congress and in the military… tracing its ancestry back to the Scots-Irish clansmen who settled along the American frontier. Its members embrace a code based on self-reliance, equality, and individualism…

Jacksonians, according to Mead, are not automatic supporters of intervention abroad. In the 1990s the Clinton administration’s efforts in Somali and Eastern Europe, having little to do with tangible American interests, left them cold. However, once they are convinced that war is justified on grounds of national interest or national honor, their sole concern is achieving victory at the lowest cost to American forces. They have little patience for diplomacy, and none whatsoever for the notion of limited war. They find it difficult to understand why humanitarian concern for the enemy should be allowed to trump the lives of US soldiers and other personnel.

The fiercest Jacksonian outrage is reserved for enemies who are deemed to be dishonorable — that is, those who fight contrary to the recognized rules of war. Ordinary opponents, who honor longstanding traditions such as the flag of truce, and who treat prisoners humanely, are entitled to be treated in the same fashion. On the other hand, terrorists who target women and children, kidnap and execute journalists and other civilians, and commit similar atrocities deserve whatever they get. The Geneva Convention, they believe, exists to protect civilization, not the barbarians who seek to bring it down.

Moreover, Jacksonians are less willing to draw sharp distinctions between actual enemy combatants and other members of the enemy nation, particularly when opponents eschew traditional uniforms, and insist on ensconcing themselves in mosques, hospitals, and other non-military buildings. According to Mead, this stems from the experience of frontier warfare: “It was not enough to defeat a tribe in battle; one had to pacify the tribe, to convince it utterly and totally that resistance was and always would be futile and destructive.” Only by carrying the war to the civilian population could future wars be avoided…

It is precisely this attitude that many non-Jacksonians find frightening. Yet Mead, far from denouncing it, believes that it is no less important to the American “style” of foreign policy than is Hamiltonianism, Jeffersonianism, and Wilsonianism. Simply put, “every American school needs Jacksonians to get what it wants.”

The Jacksonian Tradition,” The National Interest, No. 58, Winter 1999/2000, Walter Russell Mead

For the first Jacksonian rule of war is that wars must be fought with all available force. The use of limited force is deeply repugnant. Jacksonians see war as a switch that is either “on” or “off.” They do not like the idea of violence on a dimmer switch. Either the stakes are important enough to fight for — in which case you should fight with everything you have — or they are not, in which case you should mind your own business and stay home. To engage in a limited war is one of the costliest political decisions an American president can make — neither Truman nor Johnson survived it.

The second key concept in Jacksonian thought about war is that the strategic and tactical objective of American forces is to impose our will on the enemy with as few American casualties as possible. The Jacksonian code of military honor does not turn war into sport. It is a deadly and earnest business. This is not the chivalry of a medieval joust, or of the orderly battlefields of eighteenth-century Europe. One does not take risks with soldiers’ lives to give a “fair fight.” Some sectors of opinion in the United States and abroad were both shocked and appalled during the Gulf and Kosovo wars over the way in which American forces attacked the enemy from the air without engaging in much ground combat. The “turkey shoot” quality of the closing moments of the war against Iraq created a particularly painful impression. Jacksonians dismiss such thoughts out of hand. It is the obvious duty of American leaders to crush the forces arrayed against us as quickly, thoroughly and professionally as possible.

Jacksonian opinion takes a broad view of the permissible targets in war. Again reflecting a very old cultural heritage, Jacksonians believe that the enemy’s will to fight is a legitimate target of war, even if this involves American forces in attacks on civilian lives, establishments and property. The colonial wars, the Revolution and the Indian wars all give ample evidence of this view, and General William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea showed the degree to which the targeting of civilian morale through systematic violence and destruction could, to widespread popular applause, become an acknowledged warfighting strategy, even when fighting one’s own rebellious kindred.

Probably as a result of frontier warfare, Jacksonian opinion came to believe that it was breaking the spirit of the enemy nation, rather than the fighting power of the enemy’s armies, that was the chief object of warfare. It was not enough to defeat a tribe in battle; one had to “pacify” the tribe, to convince it utterly that resistance was and always would be futile and destructive. For this to happen, the war had to go to the enemy’s home. The villages had to be burned, food supplies destroyed, civilians had to be killed. From the tiniest child to the most revered of the elderly sages, everyone in the enemy nation had to understand that further armed resistance to the will of the American people — whatever that might be — was simply not an option.

With the development of air power and, later, of nuclear weapons, this long-standing cultural acceptance of civilian targeting assumed new importance. Wilsonians and Jeffersonians protested even at the time against the deliberate terror bombing of civilian targets in the Second World War. Since 1945 there has been much agonized review of the American decision to use atomic bombs against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. None of this hand wringing has made the slightest impression on the Jacksonian view that the bombings were self-evidently justified and right. During both the Vietnam and Korean conflicts, there were serious proposals in Jacksonian quarters to use nuclear weapons — why else have them? The only reason Jacksonian opinion has ever accepted not to use nuclear weapons is the prospect of retaliation.

Jacksonians also have strong ideas about how wars should end. “There is no substitute for victory,” as General MacArthur said, and the only sure sign of victory is the “unconditional surrender” of enemy forces. Just as Jacksonian opinion resents limits on American weapons and tactics, it also resents stopping short of victory. Unconditional surrender is not always a literal and absolute demand. The Confederate surrenders in 1865 included generous provisions for the losing armies. The Japanese were assured after the Potsdam Declaration that, while the United States insisted on unconditional surrender and acceptance of the terms, they could keep the “emperor system” after the war. However, there is only so much give in the idea: all resistance must cease; U.S. forces must make an unopposed entry into and occupation of the surrendering country; the political objectives of the war must be conceded in toto.”

Jacksonian America’s love affair with weapons is, of course, the despair of the rest of the country. Jacksonian culture values firearms, and the freedom to own and use them. The right to bear arms is a mark of civic and social equality, and knowing how to care for firearms is an important part of life. Jacksonians are armed for defense: of the home and person against robbers; against usurpations of the federal government; and of the United States against its enemies. In one war after another, Jacksonians have flocked to the colors. Independent and difficult to discipline, they have nevertheless demonstrated magnificent fighting qualities in every corner of the world.

Culture: God in America,” The Objective American, E.G. Ross, March 10, 2003

Because America is, according to certain surveys, a religious nation, certain reason advocates assume that Americans do not possess a solid metaphysics. Because of their religion, goes this criticism, Americans are fundamentally ungrounded in reality and are not to be trusted. On the individual level, I’ve heard this exact criticism leveled at President Bush: his religious faith disqualifies him from executive competency.

In order to sort his out, one has to distinguish between what’s held explicitly and what’s held implicitly. In my experience, America is the most implicitly pro-existence society that’s ever been. This trait is deeply in grained in the culture. It’s an integral part of what makes US citizens who they are. Out of religion’s repository of values, they pick and choose the ones they think best apply to their lives Most say they pick the values that seem most reasonable to them. In other words, whether or not they always use it as wisely as the anti-religious critics believe they should, reason is at least nominally their chief tool of judgment…

One final note: I think an oft-overlooked reason why many Americans are believers is out of homage to a proud tradition. Religion is a powerful part of the heritage that helped build this nation. Today’s believers want to be a part of that heritage. They want the continuity with a history they admire and revere. The believe out of respect — out of respect for the God-loving pioneers, frontiersmen, soldiers, industrialists, and others involved in the creation and maintenance of this unique land.

Optimism,” Objective American, November 29, 2002

My optimistic view of the future is based on the fact that man also rises. I don’t automatically assume a benign government, but I do assume a benevolently clever American public. Granted, there is corruption of rule in law. Not just in the US but everywhere. We say more than our share of it during the Clinton years — but it’s hardly new The corruption has been around, waxing and waning, since the beginning of the Republic. Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Mason, Washington and many others worried about exactly the question that bothers you. Some of them feared that the Republic might not last 50 years. Yet, here it is, over two centuries later, alive and kicking and more prosperous and admired than ever — and moving forward faster than most nations — and on track to become the freest and most populous nation in the planet.

To pessimists, it doesn’t seem that it should be possible. From a pessimist’s point of view, you’d think the corruption would have ground the country into a grease spot long ago. What accounts for its resilience? Among other things, Americans have a pronounced tendency to ignore or work around corruption — and do so to a degree that is far greater than most of us — including the pundits and scholars and futurists — realize.

God vs. Individualism,” Objective American, May 30, 2001

Yes, ideas matter. But it’s also true that not all bad ideas prevail. In the US, the pro-collectivist tendencies of mainstream churches tend to bow to the pro-individualist principles of the Constitution. It’s a huge cultural positive. It’s another example of why it’s terribly important to learn how to think in principles. And in indispensable part of properly understanding principled thought is this: not all negative principles are ascendant. That is, not all rotten implications of a crummy idea necessarily come to pass. Why?? Because other principles trump them — and in America, it’s usually the positive ones that trump the negative ones. This is a striking reason why the country has held up reasonably well over the last two-and-a-quarter centuries. It’s part of why the US repeatedly foils the forecasters of failure. We are not going to the Devil, falling into an Atlas Shrugged type of collapse, descending into the abyss of environmental catastrophe, or sliding into an overpopulation Armageddon. The most obvious, objectively verifiable fact today is that the US keeps prosperously chugging along despite the many predictions of gloom and doom — be the loosely based in religion, politics, or science. When the collapses keep collapsing, it’s time to reexamine the pessimistic predictors’ premises.

One of these days, I’m going to spend some time delving into the philosophy of foriegn policy. But for now, Paul’s tidbits will have to do.

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