Sunday, March 26, 2006
Friday, Nick Provenzo called Jack Wakeland of TIA Daily to task over at his blog for saying that Objectivist opponents of the Bush administration "are doing our enemy's work". The post and extensive comments (38 as of the start of this writing) bring up numerous issues, from whether TIA Daily is in decline, to the propriety of Wakeland's apparently calling Objectivists of the anti-Bush camp "traitors", to whether America really is winning the current war.
I almost titled this post "Jack Wakeland steps in it," but since I can't help but wonder whether I am about to do the same, I chose a different title. Let me state at the outset that I am not setting out to defend Jack Wakeland. He'll have to do that himself. I will also state that my position has, in the past, been to support the Bush administration. Even so, I have frequently made my displeasure -- both with this administration's often timid prosecution of the war and its anticapitalist domestic agenda -- clear at this blog. What I intend to do here is chew over a few things that post and some other reading have caused me to think about.
I have not considered all the ramifications of that post and the ensuing discussion, nor do I have the time or the inclination to pursue them all. Instead, I will comment briefly on what I think is the central issue: In what way does an Objectivist rationally participate, if at all, in our political system as it is today? Specifically, should an Objectivist support the Bush administration during this war? And, if so, what would such support entail?
I have already offered some thoughts on this subject here and, long ago, I reviewed the various Objectivist positions on the 2004 Presidential election here. My thinking remains largely unchanged, except that in light of Yaron Brook and Alex Epstein's excellent article, "'Just War Theory' vs. American Self-Defense", which recently appeared in The Objective Standard, I have significantly downgraded my estimate of how likely Bush is to realize even the low hopes I still held out for him. (And if you haven't read the article at that last link, drop everything and do so.)
I also considered whether, being a lukewarm supporter of Bush, or "anti-Bushite for Bush", Wakeland's charge that the anti-Bush Objectivists (many of whom advocated voting for Kerry) had simply failed to register. Here is the entire paragraph.
To say that George Bush's efforts at national defense are worse than nothing -- something I hear way too often from Objectivists -- is worse than factually false. If you follow the implications of this falsehood to claim that America is losing, you are doing our enemy's work. The enemy is far too weak to win on the battlefield. His can only win by reducing the effectiveness of our efforts by conning us into altruist mercy -- and then hoping we'll become too weary and disgusted with the futility of the ineffective efforts; too weary and disgusted to remember what we're fighting for; too weary and disgusted to stay on the field of battle.I see, however, that I did not miss what Wakeland said. I merely read it differently. Wakeland is, I think, speaking of whether our nation will lose the war militarily. This is extremely unlikely, as Brook and Epstein themselves say -- unless we stop fighting altogether. This is a distinct possibility, as witness the fact that in our last election, we came rather close to electing the anti-war candidate. For what it's worth, I suspect that Wakeland is worried that Objectivists not supporting the Bush administration will shift our public's momentum in the direction of withdrawing our troops from the Middle East. I take Wakeland's "you are doing your enemy's work" more as advice against playing into the enemy's hands and nothing more.
The question remains, though: Is this good advice? It would be, if Bush were leading us to victory. However, Brook and Epstein make it quite clear that Bush's strategy will not lead us to victory.
Defeat in the war with Islamic Totalitarianism does not simply mean that America becomes an Islamic theocracy or that our soldiers fight battles in the streets of Atlanta; these prospects are, fortunately, extremely unlikely. Defeat means any enduring negative change to the American way of life as the result of an active enemy, such as the colored alerts, or the provisions of the Patriot Act that allow virtually anyone to be investigated as a terrorist subject, or the random airport searches suffered by innocent travelers. [italics added]In deciding whom to support in the last Presidential election, I considered (1) what it would take for victory in this war and (2) whether, given the predominant philosophical premises of our populace, it was reasonable to expect that a leader willing to carry it out could get elected.
(1) The short list of ways to emasculate our Islamofascist enemy after the September 2001 atrocities would include (1) obliterating as many capitals, large cities, and military installations in hostile Islamic countries as deemed militarily necessary, or necessary to serve as an example of what any survivors could expect if they continued to tolerate Islamofascism in their midst; (2) military takeover of any important facilities, such as oil fields (and in the latter case auctioning them off to American companies whenever impossible to show ownership prior to their nationalization by these states); (3) total blockade (If they don't need "infidels", they don't need their wheat, either, do they?); (5) prohibition of travel into America by anyone from a hostile Moslem nation; and (6) deportation of anyone from such a nation. The proper way to deal with the suicide cult of Islamofascism is to give its followers what they would get without us in the world to shield them from their own irrationality: death. The infidel Atlas should shrug.I concluded then that I would support Bush as a sort of "survive to fight another day" candidate, while working to spread more rational ideas in whatever way I could. Perhaps we would someday not have to choose between a pragmatist and a pacifist during a wartime election.
(2) Our nation woke up after September 11, 2001, but we seem to be a bit groggy still. For one thing, where's the anger? Sometimes, I think I'm the only person in this country who remains extremely upset by what happened on that terrible day. For another, I outlined above what I regard as the most proper and effective response to Islamofascism. But if we had a nation and a leader who would follow such a plan, would we have gotten ourselves into today's predicament in the first place? Would we have sat on our hands for fifty years while savages gradually chipped away at us? No. Our nation is still in a moral haze about the terrorist attacks. And that is why I favor the "forward strategy of freedom," though I will always urge Bush to act more boldly and argue for the more proper response. Our cultural and political milieu will, in the near term, not permit a more vigorous prosecution of this war. As Rumsfeld might put it: fight with the (mostly Christian) army you've got. I once heard that the Romans would chase down and kill any foreigner who would so much as harm a hair of a Roman citizen. We should be doing that sort of thing, but we aren't, and won't for awhile. How do we survive to fight another day, if we are in this predicament?
At the time, I was unaware of the intellectual stranglehold that Just War Theory has in the West. I also had higher hopes than I do now in the notion that exposure to Western values (Wakeland's "Empire of the Pursuit of Happiness") might aid the spread of pro-Western governments in the Middle East (Glenn Reynold's "preference cascades"). I have not entirely abandoned hope that secular, pro-Western governments could arise in in the MIddle East, but even this cannot occur under the Forward Strategy of Freedom unless the Bush administration takes a more proactive role, along the lines intimated by Brook and Epstein:
Democracy is democracy -- that is, democracy is mob rule, which is precisely why it must be rejected in any proper occupation. (When a population has proven itself to be non-threatening to America, it should be given the power to vote, but only in the selection of leaders, not the content of the constitution.) Note that in Japan, General Douglas MacArthur did not ask the Japanese to write a constitution but forced a constitution written by Americans onto the Japanese. Both America and Japan have benefited from this for sixty years.Unfortunately, we have simply permitted Iraq and Afghanistan to incorporate Islamic law as the basis for their constitutions, which will not lead to either country being remotely friendly to the United States.
And then there is the matter of Iran and North Korea, who are developing nuclear weapons with the huge chunks of time we have given them with our diplomatic efforts to "stop" them. I recently blogged about our over-reliance on less-than-stalwart diplomatic partners for this, but I was shocked to read the following in the Just War article:
In an interview in 2004, Bush said: "We will continue pressing [Iran] diplomatically ... . Diplomacy failed for 11 years in Iraq ... and this new diplomatic effort [in Iran started] barely a year ago." 14 Could anything be more encouraging for the nations and groups seeking to wage a long-term battle against the West?At this point, the only rational conclusion about whether one can still support Bush is that one cannot, unless, at a bare minimum, he acts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and reverses his disastrous course of sending our men to fight in the Middle East -- merely for the sake of establishing Islamic law as the law of the land in the territories we conquer. Why? Because if one is supporting Bush's efforts for the sake of "living to fight another day", it would be better to bring the troops home than to have them winning overwhelmingly, only for our addled statesmen to hand our spoils over to the mullahs.
It is important to note that regardless of whether one, as an Objectivist, supports Bush or not, it is vital that one makes it clear that he supports a ruthless military campaign with its only object being the furtherance of America's national interests.
Having said all that, I will make the further discouraging observation that we are probably still better off now than had we elected Kerry. (And I bring this up because so many Objectivists advocated voting for him instead of Bush.) The refusal of the American people to back down in the face of our enemy was registered by the vote for Bush, for one thing. I think that this does at least inform the Islamists that, while America's leadership may be addled, its people are not as far gone as those in Europe.
But on a more important front -- the domestic front -- we are potentially far better off because Kerry and most of the Democratic party have strongly totalitarian impulses and, as I have blogged recently, want more than anything else to restrict our freedom of speech, which is the very means by which one's opinion of the war effort is registered. Quoting from City Journal:
The rise of alternative media -- political talk radio in the eighties, cable news in the nineties, and the blogosphere in the new millennium -- has broken the liberal monopoly over news and opinion outlets. The Left understands acutely the implications of this revolution, blaming much of the Democratic Party's current electoral trouble on the influence of the new media's vigorous conservative voices. Instead of fighting back with ideas, however, today's liberals quietly, relentlessly, and illiberally are working to smother this flourishing universe of political discourse under a tangle of campaign-finance and media regulations.If efforts like these succeed, it almost won't matter what Objectivists -- or anyone else who wants to defeat Islamic Totalitarianism -- thinks about what our government does or fails to do in this war. This is a very important thing to remember in future elections, and one which I saw no Objectivist (myself included) consider in 2004. And God help us all if we have a Clinton-McCain contest in 2008.
It's late, so I'm wrapping this up. Your thoughts and comments are welcome. I'm not sure how much further I plan to take this complicated subject, but it was definitely on my mind today....