Thursday, September 23, 2004

That Blow Shit Up Part Of Wilsonism Rocks, But The Self-Determination Part Is A Real Downer

Roger L. Simon gets major wood over Max Boot's latest column in the L.A. Times.

A better appraisal of Boot's argument can be found at Busy Busy Busy.

I won't go so far as to say that it is clever of Boot and his fellow neoconmen to claim "Wilsonian" heritage, but I will say that it's paid dividends, if only because most of his fellow pundits are too stupid to catch the lie.

In fact, even some "liberals" are quite taken by Boot's sophistry.

In practice, what Boot advocates is more like this, which merely underlines the truth that neocon foriegn policy is cobbled from Theodore "No triumph of peace is quite as great as the supreme triumph of war!" Roosevelt, not Woodrow Wilson.

But you don't have to listen to Rummy, Cheney, and Wolfowitz ever occasionally and always accidentally tell the truth about their schemes. Just listen to Michael "Americans are a warlike people who love war" Ledeen a while, or to Krauthammer, Brooks, Podhoretz, Paul Johnson, Frum, et al. Boot's no different, he's just slightly better at Public Relations, at least in his newspaper essays.

The real Boot is to be found in his turgid homage to Rooseveltian imperialism, the oxymoronically-titled The Savage Wars Of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power, where he takes care to mention the Anti-Imperialist League, founded by genuine dissidents and intellectuals (rather than by bogus dissidents and intellectuals, which neocons have always been) only once, and apparently then only to dismiss them as isolationist "mugwumps"; perhaps he's taking a cue from TR whose "genius" he admiringly quotes condemning "flapdoodle pacifists and mollycoddlers."

It's true that Boot legitimately finds things that only a neocon can admire in Wilson:

General John J. Pershing personally led more than 10,000 soldiers deep into Mexico in persuit of Villa and his band. The punitive expedition almost sparked a second war between the U.S. and Mexico, but it was good training for World War I. (My Emphasis.)

and certainly Wilson's nearly-instantaneous breaking of his promise to keep America out of WWI (which is what elected him, after all), brings forth a smile from the pursed machiavellian lips of the average neocon, not to mention a gasp of ecstasy.

But what made and makes Wilsonism different from TR's foriegn policy, and indeed from that of the neoconmen, is its emphasis on self-determination. Ho Chi Minh, as a young man, was present at Versailles and was inspired by Wilson's rhetoric -- inspired to fight for self-determination of the Vietnamese, and thus to fight against the Japanese and French imperialists. Alas, as Eisenhower famously noted in his diaries, when it was America's turn to be imperialist menace to Vietnam it was because good United Statesmen couldn't tolerate a socialist, and legitimate, democracy in Southeast Asia. Thus we nicely drove Ho into the arms of Stalinist commies, and quite lost what remained of our souls in doing so.

Ho, of course, wasn't the only one inspired by Wilson -- one could point to Nehru, Nasser, Julius Nyerere; several who sought self-determination and a "third way", which naturally the US and the Soviets made a preciously difficult task. Where Wilsonism prudently aims to aid revolutions/reconstructions from below (and thus employs "consent"), TR and the neocons aim for revolutions/deconstructions (or, to be more historically accurate, counter-revolutions) from above, a dynamic that quite bluntly underlines the fact that its advocates don't give a flying fuck what the particular country's citizens desire, but instead rather heavy-handedly assumes what would be best for the meddling power for the inhabitants. One doesn't need Habermas's ponderous explanations to realise that this very model is about as anti-democratic in spirit as one can be. More to the point, it's rarely practical. No one likes to be invaded, occupied, and then be forced to accept a government imposed by a foriegn power.

The true analogue to the neocon version of world order, specifically with regard to the Middle East, is not Vietnam (though I admit the domino theory of both is telling), but the Spanish-American War. Both were inspired by dubious "threats", both were presented as crusades for freedom, as liberations from autocracy. Both produced reprehensible behaviour in the press. Both were prosecuted with a demagogic undercurrent of racism, tribalism, and sectarianism. Behind both were "Vulcans" who had clear strategic and materialist aims, but who necessarily had to keep these aims quiet while letting the politicos bloviate about "freedom" and "liberation" which it would prove that few among them were actually willing to give to the affected peoples. The parallels are obvious.

The Project for the New American Century is, in effect, the voice of so many Admiral Mottis who tell Bush that the American Military is the ultimate power in the universe and that they suggest its deliberate use, ASAP. With 9/11 came qualified consent from the masses, which the neocons and their President promptly and inevitably abused. This, too, is analogous to the Spanish-American War, in which the US, after promising self-determination to the Filipinos, quickly welched on the deal, inspiring a rebellion which was incredibly bloody and then a "pacification", which Boot predictably glosses over, that was unequivocally genocidal. Iraq has not reached this level -- yet. But the "Heart of Darkness" level has been reached, thank you very much: Abu Ghraib is to Iraq what the "water cure" was to the Philippines. One can only wonder what General Taguba thinks in his quiet moments.

But Kevin Drum is not the only "liberal" who is pleased to be, so to speak, under Boot's heel. When people like, say, Tariq Ali rightly suspected that motives for going into Iraq were less-than-pure, one senses that if the "liberals" listened at all, they only did so long enough to roll their eyes and then quickly click to The New Republic to read the latest justifications. I'm sorry to say that several of them, to the extent that they looked for historical analogues to the Iraq Operation, went no farther than reading about the recent history they'd lived through, like the Balkan War, which is something of a historical and geopolitical duckbilled platypus. That was that, and so they signed up. This is understandable and forgivable of young bloggers like the Pandagon guys and Matthew Yglesias, but less so for Josh Marshall and Kevin Drum, to name two who should have known better. But then with the exception of the Pandagon guys, these bloggers aren't very "liberal" at all, but actually "centrist", a euphemism for the softly conservative.

Still, they are all coming around, in fits and starts. Yglesias sees a part of the historical analogy, but is still apparently blind to the rest of it. Now that The New Republic"s John Judis has written a book comparing the "petulant unilateralism" of Bush to that of TR, Josh Marshall has grasped the obvious, though it doesn't quite excuse his long-held belief in Recieved Opinion on Theodore Roosevelt -- as if there were not alternative analyses all along. That leaves Drum, who concedes the folly of Iraq but still finds the likes of Boot -- as opposed to naughty lefties like Robert Scheer -- to be "persuasive". Yeah, well, either the ideology Boot peddles is sensible and moral or it's not; and one either agrees with it, or not. And that judgement begins by realising that Boot is not actually peddling Wilsonism.