Wednesday, May 11, 2011

How Perpetual War Became US Ideology

I think that James Joyner is right, if we're talking about ideology. He points out the commonalities and alliances between liberal interventionists like Samantha Power and Hillary Clinton and neoconservatives like Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan

I'd like to add a couple of things on the practical side. Americans love technology. So it's easy, too easy, to believe that we'll put our high-tech begoggled and battery-using military on the ground, and they'll fix it all. After all, they're our kids, nice guys who will be happy to have a cup of tea with the tribal leaders. And if that doesn't work, we'll send in those carefully targeted missiles. No sweat.

We love technology, which we use to assure ourselves that no old ladies or babies will set their underwear on fire trying to bring down the plane we're taking to visit Disneyland. We love technology, except when we're scared of it and take potassium iodide in San Francisco to counteract the radioiodine in Japan. But the potassium iodide is technology, too, we like to believe good technology. And just look at those new internet-enabled cars! And if we buy a hybrid that gets more mileage to the gallon, then we can buy an immense SUV, even if it's fewer miles to the gallon than a smaller gasoline-engined car.

The American public loves a quick fix, and if it's by technology, it's a sure sell.

The military, of course, embodies that quick technological fix, and the federal budgets have aided and abetted the image and the reality. Even Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense, has suggested that some of his Department of Defense budget might be diverted to the State Department. But Congress loves those gizmos, too, especially when they're manufactured in their districts. And State manufactures many fewer gizmos.

Joyner's article is a good jumping-off place to start rethinking our foreign policy. I feel like we still haven't gotten away from the anxiety-ridden tropes of the Cold War, now two decades past.
The passionate zeal of the liberal interventionists and neoconservatives satisfies an emotional hunger that has been a part of our political system since the emotion-laden days of the Cold War, when the public first came to view U.S. foreign policy as a tool of good to be deployed against evil.
The Soviet Union was evil (didn't Ronald Reagan say so?) and the US is good. So we're still good, right? And so we can make all those other nations' stories come out with a happy ending, right? Right?

Update: Another good article, on a very different subject, as a basis for rethinking some of our problems.

1 comment:

troutsky said...

I'm wondering how useful the old frame of "interventionist/ realist" is any longer, as philosophical underpinnings.
The assumptions each camp makes about national interest are purely contingent (the point about defence manufacturing in House Districts is an example) and neither side admits the obvious democracy deficit which distorts all these policy questions.

The same thing applies in my opinion, to Monbiot's dilemma. Where does democracy and technology intersect in his environmental debate? He points us to the problem of "neoliberal capitalism" ( I argue even kinder,gentler capitalism has these problems) but doesn't connect it to the democracy deficit.