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Reihan Salam

Reihan Salam still wants your children to die for his dreams of empire. While he acknowledges that the Iraq War’s “benefits did not outweigh the enormous costs”, he’s not convinced we shouldn’t try again. In fact, he claims it is essential for world peace that America continue to put its boot on the throat of the world.

The failure of aggressive war in Iraq to make America safer by removing weapons of mass destruction (because they weren’t there) and the hundreds of thousands of dead men, women, and children as a result of that war has not put Salam off his quest to maintain Pax Americana.

Why do I still believe that the U.S. should maintain an overwhelming military edge over all potential rivals, and that we as a country ought to be willing to use our military power in defense of our ideals as well as our interests narrowly defined? There are two reasons: The first is that American strength is the linchpin of a peaceful, economically integrating world; and the second is that we know what it looks like when America embraces amoral realpolitik, and it’s not pretty.

Two genuinely ridiculous assertions one could only reasonably make if one were trapped inside a Neocon cave and unaware of reality.

The first assertion, that American strength underwrites a “peaceful, economically integrating world” requires a fair amount of cognitive dissonance. That America has been waging a global war with unlimited drone strikes, a well financed special operations hit squad with no boundaries, and major land armies in two countries for much of the last decade has apparently escaped Salam’s notice. So has, evidently, the lack of peace/unrest throughout the Middle East at large. So peace for whom?

“Economically integrating” is also a pretty revealing phrase. Salam seems to be actually celebrating that a smaller and smaller group of transnational elites owns more and more of the world economy. Is the purpose of the American military to guard Davos meetings? Few countries have been more economically and spiritually damaged by allowing corporations to exploit outsourcing than America. Cheap goods at Walmart in exchange for shattering our manufacturing base may be a sanguine trade-off to Salam, but the overwhelming majority of Americans are not happy with what the Neoliberal free trade agenda has wrought. President Obama even campaigned successfully on revisiting NAFTA to help keep more jobs in America (note I said “campaigned.”). An integrating economy for whom?

The second assertion is equally problematic. Salam condemns “realpolitik” as the alternative to Neoconservatism, which is to say that he reduces the debate over US power and foreign policy to a squabble among imperialists with some siding with the democracy by gunfire crowd like Bush and Cheney and others fitting into the realist school of power politics a la Nixon and Kissinger (his examples). Which is a strange way to frame the discussion on a number of levels.

First would be that much of what Kissinger and Nixon did was illegal. From the coup in Chile to the bombing of Cambodia, the Nixon Administration was more than willing to break even US law to see its objectives achieved. It is hard to imagine a criminal regime being a guide for future policymakers. One of the key tenants of any emulation of the Nixon and Kissinger “realpolitik” school Salam references would first and foremost have to be “If the law stands in your way, break it.” Not a sustainable strategy in the long run as Nixon would later find out. Though Reagan did try.

But what about America’s traditional view as an alternative to neoconservatism? Why not embrace the (small “r”)  republican view first articulated by George Washington in his farewell address:

The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

Thomas Jefferson continued the intellectual tradition instructing future generations to seek “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.” A policy not always followed but wise if one believes that the best way to convince others of the value of freedom and democracy is to lead by example here at home rather than adventuring abroad to slay monsters, real and imaginary.

After a spectacularly gruesome and costly failure such as the Iraq War you would think Salam and his fellow neoconservatives might take some time to do some soul searching, to return to the basics of American values. But you would be wrong. They would, apparently, rather double down on the endless struggle for dominance and all the senseless pain that will surely follow.

Photo by Larry D. Moore under Creative Commons license.