March 21, 2006,
Just kidding there actually, making the point that “The ‘To Hell With Them’ Hawks” is a really clunky way of identifying a faction. It used to be said of the mathematician Camille Jordan, whose papers were famously unreadable, that if he wished to introduce four variables on the same footing, such as the average mathematician would call a, b, c, and d, Jordan would label them as a, M3’, ε2, and Π”1,2. I feel the same way about the “The ‘To Hell With Them’ Hawks” tag. Since that tag has now graced the front cover of National Review, however, I guess we are stuck with it. I refuse to keep typing the darn thing out, though, so I shall abbreviate to “The THWTHs,” declare myself to be one of their number, and see if I can rebut some of the points in Rich Lowry’s cover story about us.
My first reaction after reading Rich’s piece was actually, I am sorry to say, a quip:
Q: What’s the difference between a Lowrian “Let’s Try to Democratize Them” hawk and a Derbyshirean THWTH?
A: About a year.
That is flippant, though. Rich is well-read, well-connected, and (gulp) my boss, so he deserves better than that. Let me first begin by laying out my own understanding of the THWTH position.
First, THWTHs are hawks. We are not pacifists or isolationists. We don’t at all mind using raw military power in pursuit of geostrategic objectives, and actually favor using it rather more than the average American or at least, the average American intellectual does. This counters a couple of Rich’s points all by itself. (“The [Crusaders] wanted to spread the one, true faith; the 'to hell with them' hawks want to enhance port security...”)
Second, we are skeptical about the utility of armed forces for any purpose not narrowly military. Soldiers are trained to war, and war is a fierce, brisk, and terrible business. I wouldn’t altogether rule out the occasional benefit of “hearts and minds” operations, but instances of wars that were won by such operations are hard to find. I suspect that rather a lot of Americans, when they see footage of GIs handing out candy to children in some occupied place, think: “What a good nation we are! Surely the enemy will see our goodness and cast down his arms!” There is no inconsistency in reflecting, when seeing such scenes, that yes, we are a good nation, but that’s not what soldiers are for.
Third, we are respectful of the differences that exist between peoples. Not just between people any population above a million or so will contain the full range of human types but between peoples in the collectivity, their traditions and faiths, their preferred social arrangements and customary understandings. Here the modern fads of “diversity” and “multiculturalism” have done great damage to our ability to deal with the world. The essential quality of these fads is an utter lack of imagination. They claim that all peoples everywhere are, in the collective, just the same, their different tastes in cuisine, costume, etc. the merest superficialities. As I put it in a book review once:
In the Empire Boys' Annuals of my own British childhood, the human world was a diverse place indeed, populated by head-hunters, cannibals, Polynesian bungee-jumpers, ferocious Gurkhas, exquisitely polite Japanese, reed dwellers, cave dwellers, tree dwellers, suttees, thuggees, fellows who inserted four-inch wooden disks into their lower lips and women who elongated their necks by adding a metal ring every year. Now youngsters are assured that though people who live in foreign parts may sometimes look a bit odd, they are really just middle-class Americans in thin disguise. Little Masai boys like to play soccer, says the "Social Science" textbook issued to my fourth-grader. In China they prefer volleyball. Uh-huh. Is it any wonder that Americans find it difficult to summon up interest in the world beyond their borders?
THWTHs are more inclined to the old British-imperialist notion that up to a fairly distant point (suttee and thuggee being beyond that point) peoples in foreign parts should be left alone to practice their own disgusting folkways, so long as they did not impinge on our interests. It may be the case, as Francis Fukuyama has argued, that irresistible historical forces are driving the human race forward to a state of affairs where human populations will all be of a pretty similar, bourgeois, “last man” type. Whether the active human will can accelerate this process is open to question, though. Fukuyama, if I understand his recent writings correctly, does not think so. THWTHs don’t think so, either, or at least believe that the necessary willed actions fail any cost-benefit test.
And fourth, we are not distressed by the misfortunes of people who hate us. Counterinsurgencies, says Rich, “require persuading people, through a range of inducements military, but also political, economic, and ideological to put down their arms…” THWTHs disagree. We don’t particularly care whether the Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds of Iraq put down their arms. We only want them to put down their arms against us. Henry Kissinger (who has been hanging around on the fringe of the THWTH clique come on in, Henry!) famously said of the Iran-Iraq War that it was a pity both sides couldn’t lose. One doesn’t want to be accused of inhuman callousness; but I am willing to confess, and believe I speak for a lot of THWTHs (and a lot of other Americans, too) that the spectacle of Middle Eastern Muslims slaughtering each other is one that I find I can contemplate with calm composure.
If we argue from this standpoint, what is our proper strategy in the War on Terror? While the first of the four attitudes described above makes us perfectly willing to strike at any nation that harms, or even just vexes, us, the posture of us THWTHs is indeed, as Rich said, essentially defensive. We should like our national government to exercise much more scrutiny of and control over foreigners entering our country. The present situation is an utter disgrace. A THWTH is always, I think, and must necessarily be, angry about lax immigration enforcement. Yes, we do want much enhanced port security. Above all, we want to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, or at least slow it down until Fukuyama’s “last man” emerges from history’s slow unfoldings. This is not an easy thing to do, and is an impossible thing to be consistent about, as the recent discussion about India showed. However, we want, at a minimum, to prevent hostile and irrational nations from going nuclear.
Terrorism of the 9/11 variety is difficult to prevent, though we are trying much harder now to prevent it than we did before 9/11. Opponents of the THWTH position like to raise Afghanistan as a counterexample. If we just smash offending countries up (they say) and then pull out, we shall leave behind the kind of chaos, and resentment, that allowed Osama bin Laden to brew his plots under the guardianship of the Taliban. Well, if the USA had been blessed with a THWTH administration prior to 9/11, I think strong military action against Afghanistan might have been justified. The real lesson of Afghanistan is the need for vigilance, and for action against terrorist breeding-grounds like pre-9/11 Afghanistan action well beyond the feeble fly-swattings of the Clinton era. To run a policy like that, of course, we need good intelligence, and intelligence has been the most dire of our national failures this past few years.
I said “might have been justified” because I don’t think, and I don’t believe THWTHs in general think, that the Afghanistan-Osama axis was the kind of threat we should be concentrating on. To be sure, it brought us 9/11. There were domestic things we could have done to prevent 9/11, though, and we seem now, to judge from the lack of similar incidents this past four and a half years, to be doing some of them. And a plot of the 9/11 type does not need a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan for its preparation. It could have been hatched just as well in some rooming house in Paris, or Istanbul, or Chicago. Of course we should strive to forestall such terrible assaults. We should not expect that we infallibly can, though.
Probably terrorist attacks with death tolls in three or four digits will happen again on our soil. We shall just have to be stoical about that. The thing that ought to fill us with dread is a terrorist nuclear attack. That would be terrorism multiplied a thousandfold, with casualties not in three or four digits, but six or seven. Terrorism will be around for some time, and while we should of course do what we can, and strike back at any nations found to be involved, terrorism per se should not keep us awake at night. What should keep us awake at night is nuclear terrorism. Since, fortunately, the making of nukes is far beyond the resources of terrorist gangs, or of anything below the level of a nation-state, it ought to be sufficient to our purposes to prevent terrorist-friendly nations from getting nukes. That should be the first priority of U.S. policy.
But we can put an end to terrorism! says Rich.
“To hell with them hawks” implicitly promise that if we deny extremists sophisticated technology, and secure ourselves at home, we can be safe. But it is the fire in the minds of men that matters most. As long as there are countless young men who want to do us harm, and are willing to die in the process, it is going to be hard to deny them the materials or the access to the U.S. necessary for them to do it. The key is to try to see that the fire itself begins to die out.
I disagree with three of those four sentences. We cannot be safe, if “safe” means “free from terrorist attacks.” Terrorism is just too easy, and there are too many crazy people in the world. (Some of them Americans: Remember Oklahoma City.) Government’s task is strenuously to act against the gravest threat, and do what it can against the others. What matters most is not the fire in the minds of men, which will burn at some level for as long as there are men, but the fire that results when fissionable material undergoes a fast chain reaction. Yes, denying terrorists access to that material, and our country, will be hard; but given the threat, surely not too hard.
As for the fire dying out, I agree with Fukuyama, as I read him, that only the slow evolutions of history can accomplish such things. Conservatives are the people who do not believe in social engineering. I don’t merely doubt that we can transform Iraqi society; I believe that to think we can, is a preposterous fantasy. A gyroscope has only two moving parts; yet if you try to push it in direction A, it confounds you by moving in direction B, at right angles to A. A human society has a trillion moving parts. If you try to push it in any direction, all sorts of things might happen, but the probability that what happens is the thing you wanted to happen, is very tiny.
But we have done this! protests Rich. We know how to do it, because we have actually done it! “Insurgencies can be beaten.” Yes, they can; but can this insurgency be beaten, by methods the U.S. electorate is willing to contemplate? Rich mentions the successes of our social-engineering efforts in Japan and Germany (so, in the same context, did Donald Rumsfeld the other day), and the arguments of Lewis Sorley that we might likewise have succeeded in Vietnam, if domestic support for the effort had not collapsed. Rich even cites the restoration of the Bourbons in support of his case.
I don’t find any of these historical analogies persuasive. Postwar Germany and Japan were wrecked societies to which we had applied the “Bomb Them Back To The Stone Age” doctrine (hereinafter BTBTTSA) that Rich sneers at elsewhere in his article. The allies in the wars against Napoleon did not have BTBTTSA available to them, but French revolutionary imperialism had been defeated twice! as thoroughly as it could have been. And the case that Iraq is not Vietnam has been made so many times, it does not bear repeating.
(Why, by the way, does Rich sneer at BTBTTSA? Does he think that some other policy would have brought democracy to Germany and Japan? It is true, as he says, that we did not employ that doctrine against North Vietnam. There were excellent reasons for that, though this was the Cold War, and the USSR was North Vietnam’s patron. Suppose we had employed BTBTTSA against North Vietnam? Does Rich think that the Vietnam War could not have been won by BTBTTSA methods? I am sure it could have; I think any war could be won by BTBTTSA. At this point in history, the American people would not tolerate a BTBTTSA strategy; but we tolerated it in the past, and might again in the future. Why does Rich scoff at THWTHs for the “instinctive favor” we display towards BTBTTSA? It is, as Japan and Germany showed, a most efficacious war-fighting strategy, surely deserving the favor of anyone who thinks seriously about war.)
As I said, though, I find it hard to take any of these historical analogies seriously. This is not 1945 or 1968. Still less is it 1815. Historical analogies will not help us much here. We have to make judgments about the quantity and quality of our resources, the size and nature of our enemy, and the temper of our people. Then we have to choose one of the only three possible broad approaches to the threats we face.
(1) Stand proud and secure, a commercial republic jealously guarding our own territory, but not trespassing on other peoples’. This is the posture we nowadays call “paleocon.” As a friend of this persuasion put it to me: “Nobody is mad at Switzerland.”
(2) Strike out at those who insult us and harm our interests preemptively, when we believe we have cause. Do so without apology or regret. Only do so, however, with punitive or monitory intent, or to remove some plain visible threat (e.g. nuclear-weapon plants), and do not stay around to get involved. This is usually called the “Jacksonian” approach, though this is not perfectly accurate, since Old Hickory was not in the least averse to a spot of territorial expansion.
(3) Go out into the world proselytizing for rational, consensual government “democracy.” Attempt to actually impose it, when opportunity arises. As President Bush said in his report to Congress the other day: “We seek to shape the world, not merely be shaped by it." This is commonly called “Wilsonianism,” though the usage here needs even more qualifying than “Jacksonian” does.
Any one of these can be misrepresented, and we may be sure that whichever one we settle on will be misrepresented. Number 1 can be portrayed as huddling fearfully behind high walls; number 2 as unilateralist bullying; number 3 as arrogant imperialism. Since these three are the only broad strategic approaches available to us, we must bear with the misrepresentations as best we can, and calmly decide which path best fits our abilities, interests, and national temperament. It seems to me that number 2, the THWTH approach, must be our choice. More than that: I think number 2 is so supremely consonant with our present requirements, capacities, and mood, that its gravitational pull will soon draw all thoughtful patriots into orbit around it yes, including Rich Lowry. So that quip I started with was actually no quip: It was meant as a prediction. But you knew that.