Charles Kopp - Contributor
Kopp is a graduate of the New School for Social Research.
He is a composer and musician, and an ardent lover of poetry.
He has been a teacher and a systems analyst. In Lafayette,
California, he now designs websites and works on creative
projects. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org [go
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Con and NeoCon
Into the Breach ...
[Charles Kopp] 7/9/04
consider matters philosophically tend at times to interpret
all agreements or arguments as reflecting on deeper
principles and values. Often this is accurate, but sometimes
to be quite a breach these days between a more traditional
view of American foreign policy, and the policy
currently being carried out by the Bush Administration, often
characterized as “neo-conservative.” The breach is
there, to be sure -- but it's important to view the gulf in a
different light for a few moments at least.
traditional conservatism, whose foreign policy derives from
a first principle
of limited government, wants us to be
strong enough to win any conflicts that we must enter, but only
to enter conflicts where our immediate security and national
interest are vitally concerned. It views “nation building” with
profound skepticism at best. And it views the book title “An
End To Evil” as an indication of something between delusion
and heresy. On these sort of grounds, some traditional conservatives
oppose the war in Iraq. Others feel our national interests (needing
stable oil supplies, thwarting governments that abet terrorism)
justify the war in Iraq, though they view the NeoCon position
more generally with concern.
In contrast, the NeoCon position can be viewed as more interventionist,
more aggressive, and as being idealistic -- inappropriately so,
in the view of those who disagree with it. It seeks a democracy,
in some meaningful sense of the word, in places like Afghanistan
Traditional conservatives wonder whether it would cost us less,
and serve our national interest just as well, if those nations
had any form of stable reliable government willing to conduct
business sensibly with the west. There is a widespread perception
among these conservatives that the cultural history of these
nations may not be ready for any sort of personal liberty, and
that even if such a thing is possible it may not be worth what
it is costing us.
There are worthwhile elements in both these views, but more
importantly, they do not necessarily represent stark differences
in fundamental principles. They can more accurately be described
as differences in perceptions of the current situation, and differences
in calculations, turning on two basic questions: What is the
extent of our danger here? And what is realistically possible
for us to do about the danger?
the conservative criticism of NeoCons is mirrored on the political
left. No element of the Bush policy seems to
infuriate Senator Kerry or Governor Dean so much as that it is “ideological.” That
a foreign policy should take into account freedom or totalitarianism
(or good and evil) seems absolutely perverse, from the point
of view of Democrats who long for more “pragmatic” policies.
On a closer reading though, Democrats are eager for their own
sort of “ideological” interventions, on behalf of
Aristide, Arafat, and Annan.
So what is the current situation? What are the dangers? What
are the possibilities?
To conservatives who oppose the war (and, again, to some liberals
who oppose it) the threat posed by Iraq was not sufficient to
justify our effort there. Even the combination of Iraq and terrorists
is not sufficient. After all, Hussein did not have the engineering
and manufacturing capacity that Germany had before World War
II. Neither Iraq nor Al Queda, nor the two combined, in this
view, could seriously endanger the United States. September 11th,
while a great and tragic loss, is small compared to wars between
great powers. And the greatness of the United States -- militarily,
economically, culturally -- could sustain far worse attacks and
still be America, free and strong.
Yet this view overlooks the significant harm that can be done
to us in this new kind of warfare. September 11th by itself caused
downturns in travel that rippled through industries such as lodging
and tourism. Some companies have yet to recover. A very few successful
attacks, on targets such as containerized shipping, airplanes,
water supplies- could cause economic disruptions that would have
even larger ripples. In a few cases, even a major attack on a
foreign facility might have severe repercussions. Think of a
small nuclear explosion in Dhahran.
An enemy need not be a great world power, with a modern military
and a bustling manufacturing sector, to do tremendous harm. Travel
and shipping as we know them could virtually cease for some time,
while ports and shippers built a very expensive new infrastructure.
Adaptations would take time and money, causing major displacements.
Our world is more tightly interwoven than on the morning of Pearl
Harbor, and economies everywhere more mutually reliant.
conservatives tend to compare the harm and displacement terrorists
cause with national mobilizations such as World
War Two, and they’re right in saying terrorists could probably
not equal the Axis powers. But terrorists could do enough (and
it’s a judgment call, like balls and strikes) to merit
current Bush administration policy.
Another part of evaluating the current situation is this consideration:
what will likely happen, if we do nothing? This is somewhat the
same coin we flip to consider Neville Chamberlain and Winston
Churchill. It boils down to this -- if we are going to have to
fight a stronger enemy later, it is better to fight that enemy
now. Persons of intelligence and good sense can differ in their
assessment of the threat.
(and some liberals) seem to think we are not in such a situation
presently. We can bide our time without
enlarging our future danger significantly. It’s a vital
question, and being wrong about it can cost millions of people
their very lives. Only later does it become so crystal clear,
whose estimate of the danger was accurate.
believe our enemies in Iraq would not grow stronger and would
us to fight them later, somewhere, at even
greater costs than we are now enduring in money and lives, may
have a reasonable point of view. But they should acknowledge
that they could be wrong. Indeed, for many of us, President Clinton
has already proven what biding one’s time can cost, as
if history needed another example.
And it is not really a philosophical difference that divides
conservatives in this situation, at least not wholly. To a very
significant extent, it is a difference in perception, again.
What is the situation? What are the dangers? What are the possibilities?
look at the possibilities. It may be difficult for some form
with individual rights to flourish, or
even survive, in these countries. The spirit of town hall meetings
that so rooted our own traditions may not be imitated there in
our lifetimes. And this is an audacious undertaking.
a very meaningful extent, there is no disagreement about what
is good -- just
different calculations of what is
possible. On the side of President Bush’s policy, even
if the new nations of Afghanistan and Iraq are far from our ideal
-- if for example they more resemble “democracy” as
it is known through Latin America -- still, that would be a very
remarkable achievement, and definitely a cultural and political
impetus to reform throughout the middle east.
Many of us
believe the prize is sufficient, even allowing that it will
difficult. This does not mean we’ll proceed
to build new nations in a lot of other places, indeed, exactly
because it is not at heart a principle, so much as a calculation,
a strategy. Other situations will involve different calculations.
Even if you
do not allow that this prize is sufficient for the risk, or
to be sought in the first place, consider this.
What other possible outcomes are there? If we do not try at least
to help these nations create stable and somewhat democratic governments,
what alternatives are likely? Isn’t it very possible that
Taliban outcomes would force us to act again in the future, perhaps
at far greater cost? Isn’t the cost of the invasion worth
the added incremental cost (to be very cold about it) of trying
to create and leave the most positive situation possible there?
What do we lose by trying? And what would we risk, by not trying?
In the end,
the truly profound philosophical differences do not lie within
movement -- they are with people
who do not believe that America is worth preserving. There are
many who believe we deserved to be attacked, and many who have
no idea how remarkable our traditions of personal freedom and
limited government are. There are many who believe America has
only been “successful” to the extent that it has
stolen real estate, raw materials, and labor from the oppressed
all around the world.
In the end, conservatives share much that is deep and enduring.
And together, we have a lot of important work to do.CRO
2004 Charles Kopp