The moderator introduced the speaker as the “scourge of the neoncons.” A kind invitation to lunch at Washington’s Metropolitan Club offered the opportunity to hear this scourge, Jonathan Clarke, a former career British diplomat and, along with Stefan Halper, co-author of The Silence of the Rational Center: Why American Foreign Policy Is Failing.
The dust jacket to his new book bears endorsements from Alfred Regnery, publisher of The American Spectator, and John Lehman, former Secretary of the Navy and member of the 9/11 Commission, among others.
Regnery wrote, “The case for a return of expertise to international affairs has never been made so cogently.”
Clarke is not at all pleased with the damage wrought by ideology, particularly neoconservatism, on the conduct of foreign policy. He believes that various and sundry “Big Ideas” have trumped competence and sheer expertise since World War II, most notably in the cases of Vietnam and the war in Iraq.
He finds it striking that America has had two back-to-back generations which have perpetrated failed foreign and military ventures. He believes that both Iraq and Vietnam were grounded in millenarian assumptions. Rather than focus on the persona of President George W. Bush, he prefers to focus on the “systematic failing” that is “built into the system” of American foreign and military policy-making.
Clarke is concerned that both the left and the right are contemplating further military interventions in Darfur and Iran. He sees the possibility of an alliance between both ends of the political spectrum promoting a bellicose approach to China’s rise as a world power.
Clarke describes the “format” of American foreign policy as derived from three influences: a historic sense of American Exceptionalism; the vast superiority or preeminence of U.S. military power unprecedented in the history of the world, accompanied by a growing “sense of power”; and a frenetic 24/7 news cycle with a penchant for immediate, adversarial programming on media outlets such as cable news.
As to the Big Ideas which can overwhelm rational, deliberative processes, Clarke cites such examples as Manifest Destiny, the Domino Theory, the Axis of Evil and Freedom on the March. These concepts are hard for Americans to resist, making it very difficult for robust debate to take place, intimidating even the most vaunted think tanks in Washington.
Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, top officials in Bush I and the Carter administrations, respectively, were the only members of the Washington establishment to have remained immune to the Big Ideas in vogue in 2003.
CLARKE EMPHASIZED THE “extraordinary accuracy” of American military, “smart bombs” and the like, as creating a mindset on both the left and right which looks to the deployment of armed force “in a painless way.” He cites the famous taunt of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright hurled at Colin Powell while he was serving as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it.”
Except for the matter of the Chinese embassy, the bombing of downtown Belgrade in 1999 was a virtuoso display of stand-off weapons which contributed to a “new aesthetic of war.” The deployment of military force to deal with international crises has now become for many not a question “of whether but only where to use U.S. military force.”
Policy-makers now believe these new technological marvels allow them to avoid running afoul the Just War Doctrine, given the ability to discriminate between civilian and military targets with precision. Hence, almost every instance of “collateral damage” is viewed as “genuinely accidental.”
Clarke claims today’s media renders serious debate or extended, nuanced discussion almost impossible given the demands of the 24-hour news cycle and the polemical nature of so many news programs.
Clarke and Halper quote conservative economist Bruce Bartlett who, after begging off a cable show because he did not want to be the “knee-jerk Bush supporter,” noted that “the debate format creates the illusion that there is always a simple answer to every complex problem and encourages average television viewers to assume that those of us in the Washington policymaking community are all idiots totally beholden to our party, without a lick of common sense or integrity.”
Clarke did not explain how the media’s impact on policy is any more deleterious than during the ascendancy of the three network news establishments with their monochromatic liberalism during the Vietnam era. Foreign policy failures seem to have occurred under both dispensations.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online