America’s Proper Role in the World

Several of the talks from April's Philadelphia Society meeting are now on-line, some in MP3 format, others as text. Unfortunately, the remarks George Nash and John Lukacs made at the ISI dinner after Saturday's sessions are not up. But I should draw readers' attention to this brief talk by John Willson of Hillsdale College, one of the Philadelphia Society's past presidents who spoke on the subject "Where in the World Are We Going?" He gave voice — along with a few of the other past presidents, including Claes Ryn — to an all-but-vanished non-militaristic conservatism. An excerpt:

Our foreign policy failures since World War II—and there have been many (except for one)—are almost all due to sound principles being transformed into ideology, sometimes intentionally, sometimes by circumstances. If one reads NSC-68 carefully, a document that bound us to one folly after another for twenty-six years before it was declassified shortly after the last helicopter left Saigon; or if one reads carefully Prospect for America, a frightening book funded by the Rockefeller family that sent one ideologue after another into top policy positions from Kennedy to Bush II, one would understand why Peggy Noonan and my wife get strip-searched at airports. Ben Franklin, whose contributions to our republic I sometimes quibble with, said famously that “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

National Security Strategy 2002, widely acclaimed (and criticized) as a statement of conservative foreign policy principles, in fact stands directly in the tradition of NSC-68 and Prospect for America. NSS2002 is supposedly innovative because it warns that the United States “will exercise our right of self-defense by the first use of armed force.” In fact the earlier documents implied this same doctrine, and all three spend far greater amounts of ink putting together comprehensive political, economic, social, and educational plans to democratize the world. This used to be called “Liberal Internationalism.” Now that it’s associated with Republicans and conservatives, it must mean that we have all bought into the Dominant Dogma of the Age. George Kennan was the greatest of our foreign policy conservatives. Thank God that the ideologues didn’t transform his measured, humble, prudent “containment” into nuclear war, although they came close. Such limited government as we have left is probably due to him, or to his way of thinking. If we any longer wish to maintain a constitutional republic, what is our proper “role in the world?” As small a role as possible.

And then there's Midge Decter, a recent president of the Philly Soc with a very different view:

…with our success in Iraq, the world would be standing, maybe not on the threshold, maybe somewhere outside the door, of a new kind of political and social and economic Middle East. Syria is tottering; Egypt is nearing a point of chaos, which could be either creative or disastrous, depending on developments elsewhere; Iran is swaggering its way into danger; Saudi Arabia is beginning to feel the consequences of its own filthy policy. For the United States to stop now, in the very face of hope, would condemn the entire Middle East, along with Nicaragua and God alone knows where else in Latin America to years and years of ugly and expansive torture. A victory in Iraq, along with the overthrow of Ahmadinejad and his mullahs in Iran would jolt the Middle East into the possibility of at least a torture–and terror-free Middle East, and who knows? perhaps even into a life free of torture and misery and oppression for untold millions of Arabs. This, of course, is George Bush's vision, though it will not be realized in his administration and perhaps not in many administrations to come. But it is–I will use the word–a noble vision.

A "torture-free Middle East"? Who is she kidding? One may doubt whether a U.S. administration that "renditions" suspects — not convicted terrorists, but suspectsto Syria for torturing and that almost certainly has Americans carrying out torture in various prison camps (not just Gitmo) around the world is really going to rid any place of that practice. Instead of turning the Mideast into American-style democracies, neocons like Decter have been creating an America more like one of the torture-regimes they say they oppose.

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