Today’s newly destabilized world having resurrected the specter of nuclear war, it behooves us to plan for ways to prevent and defend against a ballistic missile attack. Technology is less a bar to such antiwar insurance than are the U.S. government’s illusions and assumptions. Rhetoric aside, U.S. strategic policy is still mired in a 1960s assumption—that the fear of nuclear destruction makes these weapons unusable—and in the illusion that this fear is shared universally.
Some conservative and libertarian commentators have joined the leftist chorus in blessing President Obama’s moves to “normalize” relations with Castro’s Cuban regime on the basis of hopes that “Trade will lead to freedom.” Unintentionally, Peggy Noonan showed how ill-founded such hopes are: “it wouldn’t be long, with lifted embargoes, before captains of the Cuban army found out what managers of the new Hilton were making and jumped into hotel services” (WSJ December 17 and 20, respectively.) In fact, Cuban regime elites know and control precisely who earns what in the hotels. They alone profit from the nearly $3 billion dollars tourist industry, and from foreign trade in general. Since Obama’s initiatives will channel U.S. money exclusively through Castro regime channels, they can only increase the incentives that Cubans already have to seek their fortunes – most immediately, what they eat – through the clutches of communist tyranny.
“The stupidity of the American electorate,” Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber repeated to his Democratic colleagues, was essential to passing that law. Had Americans suspected the reality: that the law does not let them keep their doctors or their plans, that it makes them pay more for less, they would have warned Democrats that voting for the law would mean being voted out. But the Democrats, combining deception with shortsightedness, passed Obamacare – and, when reality blew away their fog, got voted out.
Well, it’s finally out.
Reading the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation” after 9/11, and listening to the CIA’s reaction reverberating through the media, I found myself finishing other people’s sentences. Having served on that committee’s staff for eight years, I have seen this movie many times before.
The occasions have varied—a covert action somewhere gone awry, cases of foreign espionage long undetected, even flawed analyses of weapons systems that could well have invited nuclear war—but the script is always the same.
Books reviewed in this essay:
Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy, by Barry R. Posen. Cornell University Press 2014
America In Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder, by Bret Stephens. Sentinel 2014
This generation’s U.S. foreign policy, resulting as it has in lost wars and almost universal disrespect for Americans, does not have many defenders.
Politicians and pundits of the Establishment Left, who made socioeconomic reform the hallmark of their foreign policy in the 1950s and 1960s, stopped advocating it in the 1980s—or any other means of supporting their remaining pretenses of global leadership. Whether they call themselves “internationalists” or “realists,” they are about reducing America’s power, and cover impotence with terms such as “multilateralism” and “leading from behind.”
Neoconservatives continue to support America’s primacy, as well as traditional geopolitical commitments including victory in the “war on terror.” They led the Bush administration into picking up “nation-building” as the Left was dropping it, became its last defenders, and were dragged into sharing the American people’s disdain for it. Now, neoconservatives are at a loss about how to square such means as they are willing to use with the grandiose ends they still advocate.
Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), known for his perceptiveness, ascribed his party’s 2014 defeat to the fact that, since the Democrats are the “pro-government party,” their electoral fortunes are tied to what Americans think about the role of government in their and in the country’s life.
The accuracy of that self-description is beyond question. The Party’s character is set by persons whom Joel Kotkin dubs “gentry liberals”—they hold the commanding heights of government, as well as of cultural and corporate life. They figure prominently, says Kotkin, in the “affluent classes as well as the powerful public sector.”
Empowered by the elections of 2014, Republicans face the question common to all who have had revolutionary changes imposed on them: Are we to accept what was done to us so as not to further revolutionize our environment, hoping our restraint will lead our adversaries to restrain themselves whenever they return to power?
Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who, as Minority Leader pioneered the filibuster of appellate judicial nominees—vide, Miguel Estrada—and then as Majority Leader abolished the rule that allows it, had this to say in the wake of the midterms: “This is not get-even time.” Just as understandably, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) argues for teaching “these blunder-heads that they made a big mistake” by giving them “a taste of their own medicine.”
Celebrating the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy was an obligatory ritual for two generations of American statesmen. As the decades passed however, mention of it and of “our European allies” has come with decreasing conviction and increasing embarrassment. Few dispute that, today, the alliance’s formalities are a pretense likelier to get its members into trouble than to pull anyone out of it. Civilizational changes have emptied it of substance. Readjusting American strategy to take account of those changes makes far more sense than talking about “revitalizing” or “rebuilding” an alliance on bases that no longer exist.
Far from marking the Republican Party’s rebirth, the elections of 2014 foretell the possibility that the law of supply and demand—which operates in politics as well as in economics—will kill it in 2016. That is because the Republican Establishment has no intention of meeting the American people’s pent-up demand, expressed so forcefully in the mid-term elections, to turn America away from the direction in which government, under both parties, has shoved it over the past generation.
The Republican Establishment, reading the results as a mandate to continue doing what it has been doing, will proceed as normal, and then be as challengeable as the Democrats in two years. The 2016 political marketplace will reward whoever promises to satisfy the voters’ continually unmet demands.
As the American people go to the polls in an election which, both parties tell us, will decide the country’s future by determining which of them will have a majority in the Senate, Ronald Reagan’s October 27, 1964 speech “A Time For Choosing,” the golden anniversary of which came last week, leads us to ask what choices the Republicans and Democrats are giving us in 2014, and what difference the success of either makes.