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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

 
National Greatness

by digby


Howie at DWT points me to this fascinating column in the Financial Times about John McCain which ties in with something I wrote the other day (and many times before) about American "exceptionalism" and imperialism. I said that the liberal argument, informed as it is by our allegedly traitorous belief that America is capable of making mistakes, actually makes our foreign policy stronger --- or at least more rational. The problem is that the rabid hawks are experts at catapulting the calumny from the sidelines, making it very difficult to act more rationally.

One can't help but remember this plaintive wail from Lyndon Johnson during Vietnam:

"Well, they would impeach a president that would run out, wouldn't they? ...I haven't got the nerve to do it, and I don't see any other way out of it," Johnson said.

"It doesn't make sense to do it," Russell said. "It's one of these things where heads I win, tails you lose."


In those days there were plenty of hawks in the Democratic party and plenty of Doves in the GOP, so it wasn't a partisan thing --- and he was probably right. He would have been screwed no matter what he did. Being a politician, he was not all that hard pressed to decide whether it was more important to get his signature civil rights legislation signed or risk being impeached (or at least rendered politically impotent) for surrendering to the commies. Such is the stranglehhold the wingnuts have on national security. It's tough for any Democratic president to go against that militarist American grain, even harder for one who has not worn the uniform or who doesn't have a lot of national security cred.

Expect President Obama to get a lot of resistence from the Pentagon and the Republicans on foreign policy. They went all in on imperial adventurism a long time ago and they aren't likely to back off now. (This is where a nice fat national mandate comes in handy.)

President McCain, however, can be expected to blaze new trails of American hubris. He is a "national greatness conservative" which can be described as a lethal combination of neoconservatism and Kissingerian realism (in McCains case, with the temperament of Frank Sinatra on too much coffee and nicotine.)

Mark Danner explains in this fine article about the War on Terror how those two philosophies came together on Iraq:

One can argue long and hard about the roots of the Iraq War, but in the end one must tease out a set of realist compulsions (centrally concerned with the restoration of American credibility and American deterrent power) and idealist aspirations (shaped around the so-called Democratic Domino effect). The realist case was well summarized, once again, by Henry Kissinger, who, when asked by a Bush speechwriter why he supported the Iraq War, replied: "Because Afghanistan wasn't enough." In the conflict with radical Islam, he went on, "They want to humiliate us and we have to humiliate them." The Iraq war was essential in order to make the point that "we're not going to live in the world that they want for us."

Ron Suskind, in his fine book The One Percent Doctrine, puts what is essentially the same point in "geostrategic" terms, reporting that, in meetings of the National Security Council in the months after the 9/11 attacks, the main concern "was to make an example of [Saddam] Hussein, to create a demonstration model to guide the behavior of anyone with the temerity to acquire destructive weapons or, in any way, flout the authority of the United States."

Set alongside this was the "democratic tsunami" that was to follow the shock-and-awe triumph over Saddam. It would sweep through the Middle East from Iraq to Iran and thence to Syria and Palestine. ("The road to Jerusalem" -- so ran the neoconservative gospel at the time -- "runs through Baghdad.")


That's all worked out very well, hasn't it? The entire world now sees that the US military is stretched to the limits by this occupation, our intelligence services couldn't find water if they fell out of a boat and our leadership is a bunch of morons. And that doesn't even begin to address the thing that all of us unserious DFH's were pointing out back in 2002, which is that invading Iraq was a terrorist recruitment program --- exactly the opposite of what Kissinger and his pals intended it to be. Thanks for making the country safer fellas.

It's that weird combination of violent aggression and romantic self-righteousness that animates the NGCs, and makes them worse than either the realists or the neocons alone. It's the Bush foreign policy, which McCain is adopting wholesale and then adding to it his own psychotic spin. He's not only a national greatness conservative, he's also got some really bizarre --- and dangerous --- geopolitical obsessions. From the Financial Times article

Reflecting the neo-conservative programme of spreading democracy by force, Mr McCain declared in 2000: “I’d institute a policy that I call ‘rogue state rollback’. I would arm, train, equip, both from without and from within, forces that would eventually overthrow the governments and install free and democratically elected governments.” Mr McCain advocates attacking Iran if necessary in order to prevent it developing nuclear weapons, and last year was filmed singing “Bomb, bomb Iran” to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann”.

Mr McCain suffers from more than the usual degree of US establishment hatred of Russia, coupled with a particular degree of sympathy for Georgia and the restoration of Georgian rule over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He advocates the expulsion of Russia from the Group of Eight leading industrialised nations and, like Mr Scheunemann, is a strong supporter of early Nato membership for Georgia and Ukraine. Mr Scheunemann has accused even Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, of “appeasement” of Russia. Nato expansion exemplifies the potential of a McCain presidency. Apart from the threat of Russian reprisals, if the Georgians thought that in a war they could rely on US support, they might be tempted to start one. A McCain presidency would give them good reason to have faith in US support.

Mr McCain’s policies would not be so worrying were it not for his notorious quickness to fury in the face of perceived insults to himself or his country. Even Thad Cochran, a fellow Republican senator, has said: “I certainly know no other president since I’ve been here who’s had a temperament like that.”

For all his bellicosity, President George W. Bush has known how to deal cautiously and diplomatically with China and even Russia. Could we rely on Mr McCain to do the same?


No. His personality is undiplomatic and incautious and if the country gives this man power he will use it. Unlike most warriors who become politicians (as opposed to chickenhawks) he truly believes in the romantic glory of war and wants to use the military to project American greatness around the world.

Mr McCain exemplifies “Jacksonian nationalism” – after Andrew Jackson, the 19th-century Indian-fighter and president – and the Scots-Irish military tradition from which both men sprung. As Mr McCain’s superb courage in North Vietnamese captivity and his honourable opposition to torture by US forces demonstrate, he also possesses the virtues of that tradition. Then again, some of the greatest catastrophes of the 20th century were caused by brave, honourable men with a passionate sense of national mission.


Jackson was certainly a National Greatness kind of guy:

Andrew Jackson, from Tennessee, was a forceful proponent of Indian removal. In 1814 he commanded the U.S. military forces that defeated a faction of the Creek nation. In their defeat, the Creeks lost 22 million acres of land in southern Georgia and central Alabama. The U.S. acquired more land in 1818 when, spurred in part by the motivation to punish the Seminoles for their practice of harboring fugitive slaves, Jackson's troops invaded Spanish Florida.

From 1814 to 1824, Jackson was instrumental in negotiating nine out of eleven treaties which divested the southern tribes of their eastern lands in exchange for lands in the west. The tribes agreed to the treaties for strategic reasons. They wanted to appease the government in the hopes of retaining some of their land, and they wanted to protect themselves from white harassment.


Jackson also, by the way, burned every Seminole village he came across in Florida killing everything in his wake. You see, he needed to "let them know that we were not going to live in the world that they wanted for us." The dominoes of democracy all fell the right way and today we have Disney World, thus proving that Bush and McCain are geniuses.


The FT article indicates that Europeans are seriously concerned that the US is going to cement its reputation as a rogue superpower by electing McCain. That should be out primary concern above all else in November. Electing McCain will definitely make this country less safe as the rest of the world comes to realize that they are going to have to band together to contain us. Even our allies are skeptical of our motives and a powerful country always breeds suspicion. But there has now been enough distance from 9/11, and Iraq has been such an epic cock-up, that there can be no more question: if the American people validate this policy again, we will have told the world "bring it on." I don't think that makes us stronger or safer, do you?


(And btw, McCain doesn't really oppose torture. He just says he does and gets a great deal of acclaim for his "maverick" position as usual, while helping to pass legislation that makes it legal. His teflon is industrial strength.)


Update:
Only a fool or a fraud sentimentalizes the merciless reality of war.

--Sen. John McCain, March 26, 2008


Uh huh.