Imagine yourself at a fashionable party, a century ago, in Belgravia, the Upper East Side, or the Ballplatz. After-dinner brandy is served, Augustas are lit, and the talk turns to world affairs. The host asks his guests what they deem to be the issue that threatens peace and stability more than any other.
A senior official mentions the perennial Franco-German enmity; an admiral sees the danger in the Anglo-German naval race; a banker is worried about Japan’s further ambitions after her victory over Russia; a diplomat warns of the ever-present possibility of some damn nonsense in the Balkans . . .
It is your turn, and—while confessing indecision on the most pressing issue of the day—you opine that, a hundred years hence, “the Middle . . . er, the Near East will preoccupy the nations of the civilized world more than any other region. Over a hundred thousand American soldiers, supported by some British auxiliaries, will be bogged down in Mesopotamia, and thousands will be killed. Further east, many regiments of Germans, Canadians, Poles, Czechs, and others will be helping Americans prop up the ruler in Kabul. The French will patrol the Litani—oh, it’s a river between Sidon and Palestine, you see . . . ”
By now, the respectful silence of those present has turned cold. Quick glances are exchanged, throats are cleared, but you are on a roll: “Persia will challenge us all, with audacity and apparent impunity, by striving to acquire weapons of unimaginable destructive power. In Palestine, Jews and Arabs will fight endless wars—of great bloodshed, sometimes, and attrition, always. Coarse Arabian princes from the desert will command riches that would put any Rothschild to shame and use them to build countless mosques in our cities and to buy our politicians and our businesses. The followers of Mahomet will slay thousands of us—there will be dreadful carnage in New York, London, Madrid, and Moscow—but that will not stop millions more from coming, settling in our lands, and treating them as their own. In France, more people will pray in mosques on Fridays than in churches on Sundays. In the meantime, our rulers will insist on bringing more of them in, while proclaiming all the while that their faith is really noble and peaceful, and . . . ”
At this point, the host feels obliged to interrupt you. “Well, thank goodness now I know you are joking. For a moment, I thought you were serious, old boy, which would have meant either that you’d had too much of my Old Pale, or that you’ve gone stark raving mad. But this vision of mosques and Mohammedan carnage, and in the streets of New York, of all places . . . ha ha, that’s colossal, you rascal, you almost had me fooled!”
The other guests, visibly relieved that the outburst of eccentric frivolity is over, join in the laughter, and the conversation gets serious once again: Heligoland, three-year conscription in France, the dreadnoughts, Bosnia, the Bosphorus . . .
Today, however, in 2007, we need to ask, Are we mad, or drunk?
We must be both, or else an unpleasant and treacherous part of the world would not have been allowed to command our attention, dominate our lives, and even threaten our very survival, the way it does today.
The strange obsession with the Middle East encapsulates much of what is wrong with America’s foreign-policymaking on both sides of the dominant duopoly in Washington. At its poles, there may be differences over tactics and means, but the alleged necessity of America’s continued, open-ended commitment is never questioned.
Superficially, the madness is fueled by greed; but, of all prerequisites for the development of a sane foreign policy, radically reducing and gradually ending our unnecessary and pernicious dependence on foreign oil would be the easiest to achieve. A deeper malaise is at work. The real madness is an amorphous beast with many names—multiculturalism, one-worldism, tolerantism, inclusivism, antidiscriminationism—that demands engagement abroad and wide-open doors at home.
Both abroad and at home, the impulse is neurotic; its justification, gnostic. It reflects the collective loss of nerve, faith, and identity of a diseased society, producing a self-destructive malaise that is literally unprecedented in history.
The intoxication is the arrogant belief, in general, that our reason and our science and our technology can resolve all the dilemmas and challenges of our existence, and, in particular, that enlightened abstractions—democracy, human rights, free markets—can be spread across the world and are capable of transforming it in a way that would ultimately turn Yusufs into Joes (which is what they all want, we are assured, or would choose only if they could think clearly).
Both the madness and the intoxication have a “left,” essentially Wilsonian, narrative (one-world, postnational, compassionate, multilateralist, therapeutic) and a “right,” or neoconservative, one (democracy-exporting, interventionist, monopolar, boastfully self-aggrandizing). The former is embodied in Al Gore and the Council on Foreign Relations here, the European Union and Prince Charles abroad, and George Soros everywhere. The latter has Leo Strauss as its prophet, “democratic capitalism” as its guiding principle, and Iraq as a tangible fruit of its benevolent global hegemony.
Though differing in practice, both outlooks are utopian and firmly rooted in the legacy of the Enlightenment and the rejection of any power independent of “the market” and the ostensible will of the multitude. Both hold that Man is naturally good and improvable, that human conflict is unnatural and vanquishable, that chaos and bloodshed around the world are primarily the fruits of some flawed policies of the West (Wilsonians) or the result of our insufficient “engagement” (neoconservatives).
The former find remedies in endless self-examination, in the supranational mechanisms of “collective security” controlled by themselves, and in the promotion of “dialogue” with every Third World tyrant and madman, for as long as he declares a grievance against us. The latter rely on the use of force to impose their benevolent global order on a supposedly grateful pre-postmodern humanity. Both are determined to make the world as they want it to be rather than to deal with the world as it is. This produces policies that are invariably flawed, often evil, and occasionally fatal. Both are united in their loathing of the realist view of America not as an ever-expanding empire but as a republic with definable borders and interests rooted in her history, culture, and tradition. When a realist warns of the Hobbesian nature of the real world and advocates national interest as the foundation of this country’s external affairs, they both cry in unison, “Isolationism!” “Racism!” or some other ism.
It is incorrect to describe Wilsonianism and neoconservatism as two “schools” of foreign policy. They are, rather, two sects of the same Western heresy that has its roots in the Renaissance and its fruits in liberal democracy. Their shared denominational genes are recognizable not in what they seek but in what they reject: polities based on national and cultural commonalities; durable elites and constitutions; and independent economies. Both view all permanent values and institutions with unrestrained hostility. Both exalt state power and reject any political tradition based on the desirability of limited government at home and nonintervention in foreign affairs. Both claim to favor the “market” but advocate a kind of state capitalism managed by the transnational apparatus of global financial and regulatory institutions. Their shared core belief—that society should be managed by the state in both its political and its economic life—is equally at odds with the tenets of the liberal left and those of the traditional right. Far from being “patriotic” in any conventional sense, they both reject the real, historic America in favor of a propositional construct devoid of all organic bonds and collective memories.
The two sects’ deep-seated distaste for the traditional societies, regimes, and religion of the European continent was manifested in President Clinton’s war against the Serbs in 1999 and in their unanimous support for Kosovo’s independence today. For the same reason, they share a visceral Russophobia, a soft spot for Chechen jihadists, and a commitment to NATO expansion. Both Wilsonians and neoconservatives are united in opposing democracy in postcommunist Eastern Europe, lest it produce governments that will base the recovery of their ravaged societies on the revival of the family, sovereign nationhood, and the Christian Faith. Inevitably, they have joined forces in creating and funding political parties and NGOs east of the Trieste-Stettin Line that promote the entire spectrum of postmodern isms that have atomized America and the rest of the West for the past four decades. From Bratislava to Bucharest to Belgrade, both present the embrace of deviancy, perversion, and morbidity as the litmus test of an aspirant’s “Western” clubbability. Ultimately, both sects share the Straussian dictum that the perpetual manipulation of hoi polloi by those in power is necessary because they need to be told what is good for them.
The essential similarity of Wilsonians and neoconservatives is based on their common ideological premises and cultural preferences. The inability of most patriotic, traditionalist Middle Americans to recognize that similarity and its implications is a problem. They have no difficulty in recognizing the weirdness or evil of, say, Hillary Clinton, but they would be hard-pressed to detect identical traits in an equally radical sectarian who has morphed into a self-styled “conservative” of the Weekly Standard variety. As Brian Mitchell notes in the conclusion to his book Eight Ways to Run the Country, the obvious disharmony between the genuine conservatism of ancient ideals—whether Anglo-American or orthodox Christian—and the ruthlessly new ideology of “democratic capitalism” embodied in Michael Ledeen’s Creative Destructionism is lost on the average “Red” American who votes Republican and watches FOX News:
It remains to be seen how far capitalism will carry us before social conservatives awake to its dangers. When free men are allowed to amass great fortunes from global rackets in gambling, pornography, prostitution, narcotics, weaponry, and usury, the permanent things can only expect short shrift. Ultimately, such unrestrained capitalism is on the side of our enslavers. In a thoroughly capitalist world, men will buy and sell each other. Only a power independent of the free market can save us from the slave market.
Historically, Mitchell notes, only two institutions have been up to the task: the institutions of nondemocratic governments that guard against accumulation of wealth outside government control, and a unified Christian Church whose wealth and power are committed to nonmarket purposes. “Democracy alone is no match for the market,” Mitchell concludes, “for democracy is itself a market, selling power to the highest bidder.” Indeed, democracy in America is a corrupt “democratic process” run by an elite class that conspires both to make secondary issues important and to treat important issues as either irrelevant or illegitimate: One party may be in; another, out; but the regime is in power permanently.
The global power of the Wilsonian-neoconservative regime is unlikely to be broken incrementally by an America gradually coming to her senses. It will indeed be broken, but the price will be paid in Middle American blood and treasure. We cannot know when and how this will happen—but happen, it will. We cannot know what will be the theme of after-dinner discussions a hundred years hence, but we do know it will not be the global grandeur of the liberal-democratic-capitalist Pax Americana.