Midge Deceter: Neocon Goddess
Andrew Bacevich: Conservative foreign policy intellectual
A few years ago (quite a few, as a matter of fact), I was (s)elected as the --- please, don't laugh! -- Shadow Secretary of State of the libertarian Party (and no, I didn't get a "shadow chauffeur" not to mention any "shadow salary"), so when my party organized a conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, I accepted their invitation for the weekend hoping that I'll, well, get lucky. And I had this fantasy of cool and easy libertarian gals who would be fighting with each other over who would have the honor of spending Saturday night with their Secretary of State... What can I say... Most of the attendees in the event were aging nerdy males plus two of three aesthetically-challenged females and they all ended up spending Saturday night arguing over where and when Alissa Rosenbaum (Ayn Rand) and Nathaniel Branden had made out for the first time. And believe me, the Mormom night life is not so hot (unless you're a polygamist, I suppose)and they didn't even have x-rated movies on the hotel's cable system. So.. all this long introduction is by way of explaining to you why I tend to avoid weekend conferences organized by groups affiliated with the political right. Big shortage of babes there. Which means that if you do want to be a Shadow Secretary of State, join the Green Party. Indeed, I've become even more convinced not to look for love in conservative/libertarian circles after reading a very informative and entertaining report by a talented conservative writer, Michael Brendan Dougherty about his experiences in the recent national meeting of the conservative Philadelphia Society. There is a point in which Michael and another young man are waiting in a train station to return back to New York City when they suddenly encounter...Midge, one of the females (the only one?) they met in the conference. Now this sounds like a great setting for a grand romantic finale to the long weekend in Philadelphia:
Peter Jonston of Yale and I took a cab together to the train station. We decided to eat lunch and we saw Midge reading the paper while she waited for the same train that would carry us. She recognized us and said something kind about the weekend. She smirked and left. I was sure that she recognized me as the gentleman in all sorts of pink who seemed unimpressed with Max Boot. But as Peter and I waited outside the enormously long line boarding the train, Midge helped us sneak in to her place. This was very kind of her and we thanked her profusely. Peter was a Cubs fan and I found out that he, like Jeremiah (mentioned earlier) were tempted by their traditionalism to abandon the Protestant heresy and embrace the Catholic Church. Peter and I spent our train ride discussing Marian doctrines, the Chicago Cubs, Papal primacy and the problems of government subsidized trains.
Yes.. That was Midge Decter (seen above). The wife of Norman Podhoretz and the mom of Normanson (John Podhoretz) and the mother-in-law of Elliot Abrams, a.k.a. the Godmother of the Neoconservative movement. If those suicide bombers would be told that they'll meet her in paradise, they might end up using a Moslem dating service instead of blowing themselves up. But, hey, all things considered -- and notwithstanding the presence of this Neocons Goddess and that of (Mad)Max(Das)Boot in the meeting -- I wish I would have been in Philadelphia. Some of my favorite conservative intellectuals were there, including John Lukacs, Claes Ryn, Andrew Bacevich, and James Kurth were there, discussing my favorite topic, U.S. foreign policy. (Btw, all of them have also published in my favorite political magazine, The American Conservative). It seems to me that these and other conservative intellectuals are advancing the most original critique of the neoconservative foreign policy agenda that has become to be associated with "conservative foreign policy." Claes Ryn's presentation in Philadelphia and his devastating attack on the neo-Jacobins (read: neocons)is superb and explains why what the Bush Administration is doing in Iraq and elsewhere doesn't come under the headline of "conservative foreign policy:"
Conservatives see in Jacobin principles a hair-raising obliviousness of lifeÂs complexity. To implement such principles may devastate a society. A society may be wholly unsuited or unprepared for changes demanded of it. So what, say AmericaÂs neo-Jacobins. We need moral clarity. What was there before does not matter. "Democracy" must take its place. One model fits all. To ensure a democratic world, America must establish armed and uncontested world supremacy.
Michael Brendan Dougherty quotes in his blog from Bacevich presentation on the principles that should guide a conservative foreign policy:
First, a conservative foreign policy ought to respect history, which is not a triumphal march toward the sunny uplands of freedom but a tale of tragedy, miscalculation, and overreaching. It is not given us to know the direction or purpose of history. It is preposterous for us to claim otherwise. Therefore, we must be modest in our aims and expectations.
Second, given the fallen state of man and given the nature of international politics, a conservative foreign policy will recognize the impossibility of achieving anything like Âworld peace.Â In a disordered world, we must be ready to defend ourselves.
In that regard, a conservative ought not to disdain stability Â to the extent that we can create and maintain stability weÂve achieved quite a lot.
If the second principle implies the need to keep our powder dry, the third principle counsels prudence and wariness when it comes to war. War is a toxic drug. It needs to be used sparingly.
The more I study military history the more I am struck by how seldom the resort to arms yields a decisive victory Â one that makes a clean sweep of the political problems that gave rise to war in the first place. I am struck further by the fact that time and again war gives rise to enormous and unexpected consequences and leaves nasty loose ends. As often as it ÂsolvesÂ a problem, it leaves new ones in its wake.
From a conservativeÂs point of view, moreover, warÂs impact on the fragile domestic institutions that make liberty possible on home front is almost always negative. Randolph Bourne was right: Âwar is the health of the state.Â
Fourth, given the dangers of Leviathan and the corrupting effects of power, conservatives will always want to keep a wary eye on political authorities promising to Âkeep us safe.Â Conservatives should view as anathema the doctrine that the authority of the commander-in-chief is without limit Â especially when the commander-in-chief says that weÂre condemned to something akin to perpetual war.
Bacevich, according to Brendan, also stressed that he didn't believe that it would be possible to form "unified" conservative approach to foreign policy anytime soon. I'm not so sure and it would certainly be a mistake to adopt such a defeatist strategy. It's important to remember that the neocon were able to influence the Bush Administration's foreign policy because they were there waiting and ready with their ideas when 9/11 took place. Conservative and libertarian foreign policy thinkers should try to draw the outlines of a coherent foreign policy approach and be there waiting and ready when this administration's foreign policy would collapse and explode.