February 28, 2005

Churchill (Winston) Worship Rampant

...amidst the neo-cons; writes Jacob Heilbrunn.

He writes:

But after celebrating Churchill, many neoconservatives go on to champion empire, and at that point matters become trickier. Krauthammer has applauded the idea of American hegemony, which he calls ''democratic realism,'' in The National Interest. Shortly after 9/11, in an article called ''The Case for American Empire,'' published in The Weekly Standard, Max Boot wrote: ''Afghanistan and other troubled lands today cry out for the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets.'' The former Canadian press baron Conrad Black, the chairman of the board of The National Interest, is calling for the creation of a Churchillian Anglosphere, while the historian Niall Ferguson wants the United States to quit being an ''empire in denial'' and adopt liberal imperialism.

It's hard to see why it should. What, after all, was Churchill's imperial legacy? While he was laudably eager to establish a Jewish state, his forays into Arab nation-building after World War I, including the creation of Iraq and Saudi Arabia, plague the region down to the present. Far from helping avert the collapse of the empire, Britain's machinations under Churchill accelerated it. At the same time, it's not clear how ''liberal'' Churchill's imperialism actually was. He was a rather equivocal democratizer, declaring in 1942 that he had not become ''the King's first minister in order to liquidate the British Empire.'' He bitterly fought with Roosevelt over recognizing Indian independence, and he despised Gandhi.

For many of the neoconservatives, however, the great liberal idol Franklin D. Roosevelt was a disaster. The former Bush speechwriter David Frum has hailed Churchill as the great man of the 20th century, while denouncing Roosevelt for not opposing Nazism and Stalinism vigorously enough. It seems clear that by shunting Roosevelt to the sidelines and elevating Churchill, neoconservatives are doing more than simply recovering a neoconservative hero from the past. They are, in effect, inventing a new interventionist tradition for the Republican Party that goes beyond anything Churchill or other British statesmen ever imagined.

I think Heilbrunn comes armed with a bit of an agenda here. It's easy to cherry-pick some Max Boot quotes that sound nostalgic for the days of the Raj or some Conradian musings about some Churchillian Anglosphere. But the Republican party, via its interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, isn't Empire-building any more than, say, the Democrats were during Clinton era interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo. Indeed, one could make a strong argument indeed that the interventions in the Balkans were less motivated by realist direct national security concerns than Bush's two wars (and I say this as a major supporter of our belated Balkan intervention).

I guess too that one gets tired of the constant cacophany about the neo-cons (though I'm sure Heilbrunn's book in progress on neo-conservatism will be quite interesting). There really is an epidemic in the use of the term, isn't there? And wasn't the "neo" part, at first, simply a reference to the fact that Krisol and Co. were reformed Trotskyists, ie. they were newly conservative after their youthful leftist exuberances? Or those like Richard Perle, say, who worked for Democrat Senator Scoop Jackson (who was staunchly anti-Soviet) before joining the Reagan Pentagon. Frankly, it seems, anyone these days who believes in robust democratization efforts and holding tyrants to account are automatically part and parcel of the nefarious neo-con crowd. Would, say, opposition to Milosevic's genocidal excesses a neo-con make?

To be sure, there is an empire-like 'national greatness' feel to the foreign policy of people like George Bush or John McCain that doubtless gets the pulse of people at the Weekly Standard (and occasionally here at B.D.!) racing. But occasional, and not wholly unfounded, whimpers of American exceptionalism, married to the reality-moored (yes), forward democratization strategy we are witnessing today--well, what's so bad about that really? The Egyptian parliamentarians listening to Mubarak's recent address about the prospects of Egypt's first free Presidential elections in the modern era or the millions of Iraqis who voted in the face of fascistic terror tactics--surely they are happy that Bush is finally addressing the decades long democracy exception that was our Middle East policy.

Whether it's neo-conservatism or realist-based policy or some hybrid thereto--it's bold, it's ambitious, and it has begun to revolutionalize a region critical to our national interest in what one hopes will ultimately prove a favorable manner. Suffocatingly oppressive societies, atrophying economies--neither can be acceptable over the long term in the perilous post 9/11 era. Societies characterized by such repression and lack of hope would risk pushing too many into the hands of utopic and fanatical radical Islamist movements. And so when Egypt, as the Arab world's most populous nation, sees increasing freedoms implemented, or when Iraq continues its transition towards sustainable, democratic political structures--people in the region from Riyadh to Damascus, even from Tashkent to Bishkek--they are sitting up and they are taking notice. Married to a better public diplomacy effort in Bush II (which I am confident will be a priority of Condi Rice's), greater coordination with allies in Europe, a resucitation of the Arab-Israeli peace process--all give me cause for optimism during these exciting times. And regardless of whoever (whether neo-cons, realists, national greatness conservatives, liberal empire boosters) is behind the policy wheels.

Posted by Gregory at February 28, 2005 01:06 AM | TrackBack (4)

Um, dude, have you read Max Boot's friggin' book!?!

That's not just an offhand quote.

And Heilbrun is absolutely right about Churchill qua imperialist, as a matter of fact. Here was a man who used chemical weapons against the Iraqi people. I thought we were against that sort of thing.

Now, clearly what's happened in Egypt is good, and Boot is on the record calling for linkage ... but let's not pretend he's not an avowed imperialist, because he calls himself one.

I'm optimistic, too, but it has nothing to do with Max Boot or Niall Ferguson's vision of the world.

Still haven't heard anything about those permanent bases, btw.

Posted by: praktike at February 28, 2005 02:46 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

i meant that heilbrunn's was cherry-picking quotes to make neo-conservatism look synonymous with Empire-building writ large; not that he was necessarily cherry-picking Boot's ouevre unfairly.

p.s. Prak, are you really resuscitating Atrios' lame musings about permanent bases around the time of the historic elections in Iraq. May i stifle a yawn?

Posted by: greg at February 28, 2005 03:00 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Foreign policy realists hate the disorder of rampant freedom as much as businessmen hate free markets. Every business seeks to maximize profits by creating barriers to market entry, developing and enforcing patents and copyright; they support free trade to the extent that it lets them into new markets, but will do all they can politically to defend their own markets. That’s all fine, it’s the nature of business to minimize competition in order to maximize profits. It takes a strong leader to suck in his gut and push for market expansion and greater competition, knowing that the business community will howl; that leader has faith in the merits of the disorderly free market.

Bush’s heresy is to push for liberty and freedom in political markets, believing that short-term uncertainty will result in a more peaceful and equitable balance of power in the longer run. The Egyptians are just the latest to smell the table being prepared in Iraq; they want to sit at the table too. There is the matter of the annual payments from the US taxpayer that may have influenced Mubarak’s move, but move he did. Will it work out well for the US? Time will tell. But Bush seems to be of the mind that competition will eventually lead to a win-win – for the Egyptians and for the US. The Bush administration seems prepared to put up with tumult in Lebanon, Syria, and other places for longer term benefits.

The certainty of the realists – the security they believe will result from the status quo – is a false one; it overlooks the dynamic potential and quite human yearnings of a populace in favor of a corrupt class. Let’s try nation-building by redefining the foundation as the people, not the ruling class that’s already failed.

Posted by: The Kid at February 28, 2005 03:35 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"p.s. Prak, are you really resuscitating Atrios' lame musings about permanent bases around the time of the historic elections in Iraq. May i stifle a yawn?"

Stifle away!

The timing was bad, but the facts were not! See Diamond, Larry for the details.

Posted by: praktike at February 28, 2005 03:59 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, what exactly is the source of your confidence that Sec. Rice will make public diplomacy a priority?

This is a serious question. Personally I think most of Rice's (male) conservative admirers have been thinking with their glands for four years. She was overmatched as NSA and inherits a State Department that retains many of the institutional weaknesses that developed during the Clinton years. One of these was the closing of USIA, an unfortunate decision the consequences of which were ably discussed in a Wash Post op-ed Saturday.

Do you know that Rice plans to set a new course in this area? Or is her commitment to better public diplomacy best reflected in her choice of outfits?

Posted by: Zathras at February 28, 2005 04:26 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Zathras makes a good point -- AFAIK there is still no appointee for public diplomacy at State.

I have, however, noticed more diplomatic language and more timely press releases (e.g. on Turkish elections in Cyprus). And Rice and Bush were both mostly polite on the recent Europe trip, which is a big improvement. There's no reason not to be polite. Still, you get the occasional snafu, such as Rumsfeld's recent call for China to "enter the civilized world," which, natch, was not received well.

Posted by: praktike at February 28, 2005 06:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What you have to watch out for is the keywords: cultural imperialism and hegemony.

The U.S. is not, and has not been except for some adventures around the turn of the 19th to 20th century, objectively imperialist -- we do not seek to install our own administration even in places we've conquered, e.g. Japan and Germany. This confounds the lefties, since we are opposed to socialism, especially Communism, and by definition such opposition must be "imperialist." There aren't any other niches in their conceptual space.

But one can observe around the world, sometimes only in small enclaves, that relatively prosperous, relatively free societies tend to look a lot alike. A suburbanite from an American city will find much to recognize in a suburb of, say, Tokyo or Paris, and the reverse is also true. Aha! say the Lefties. The damned Americans are imposing their culture on the conquered masses! From our point of view, of course, such similarities are an inevitable consequence, an emergent quality rather than something imposed, so by opposing "cultural imperialism" the Lefties are opposing freedom, prosperity, etc. as demonstrated in many places, from Fidel to Kim to Robert M.

"Hegemonism" is the same thing from another viewpoint, that of Governmental type rather than economic affairs. By imposing (!) democracy on societies which (really truly, of course they're only brown people who don't know better) prefer tyranny and dictatorships because it's in their cultural heritage, we are somehow arranging things so that other countries will do as we prefer, such as allowing rule of law, suppressing terrorists, keeping stable economies, not attacking neighbors, and the like. Since it's being done by Americans, this is automatically villainous and needs an epithet.

"Oppose Cultural Imperialism" == keep 'em poor and ignorant rather than imposing a culture of prosperity;

"Oppose Hegemonism" == keep 'em badly ruled rather than supporting decent Governments.

Of course cultural relativism is useful in supporting such arguments, but in reality the concepts are the result of trying to force later developments into the straitjacket of Capital and subsequent hadith. It's good to see at least a few cracks in that wall, notably J. M. Marshall, who's basically a good cobber despite his fetish.


Posted by: Ric Locke at March 1, 2005 03:58 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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