Charles Krauthammer has an Opinion Journal column about neoconservatism and its seeming victory in today’s political world. Consider:
The post-Cold War era has seen a remarkable ideological experiment: Over the past 15 years, each of the three major American schools of foreign policy–realism, liberal internationalism and neoconservatism–has taken its turn at running things. (A fourth school, isolationism, has a long pedigree, but has yet to recover from Pearl Harbor and probably never will; it remains a minor source of dissidence with no chance of becoming a governing ideology.) There is much to be learned from this unusual and unplanned experiment.
Alright, interesting beginning. So I keep reading as Mr. Krauthammer rolls through the last 15 years of political victories (President(s) Bush) and failures (President Clinton). It’s a partisan to dismiss President Clinton’s achievements, but this basic fundamental point isn’t too far off.
Still, the achievements of the elder Mr. Bush far outweigh the failures. The smooth and peaceful dissolution of the Soviet empire began, Saddam was stopped, and Arabia was saved. But then came the second, radically different experiment. For the balance of the 1990s, for reasons having nothing to do with foreign policy, realism was abruptly replaced by the classic liberal internationalism of the Clinton administration.
It is hard to be charitable in assessing the record. Liberal internationalism’s one major achievement in those years–saving the Muslims in the Balkans and creating conditions for their possible peaceful integration into Europe–was achieved, ironically, in defiance of its own major principle. It lacked what liberal internationalists incessantly claim is the sine qua non of legitimacy: the approval of the U.N. Security Council.
Otherwise, the period between 1993 and 2001 was a waste, eight years of sleepwalking, of the absurd pursuit of one treaty more useless than the last, while the rising threat–Islamic terrorism–was treated as a problem of law enforcement. …
That’s the crux of the so-called Clinton failure, isn’t it. He lead the nation into complacency regarding the threats facing our nation. He could’ve done more and he didn’t. His four years were a damaging slide into preventable danger.
I’ve heard that message, but I don’t buy it in totality as the gospel of fact. President Clinton didn’t paralyze the threat when he had the chance, a fact that most can agree on. However, most indications reveal that he wanted to take more action on the looming threat. He failed to act based on disagreement from his Cabinet. Blame him for governing based on polls and I won’t disagree with you. Blame his approach to the world and I will disagree. And here’s why:
Then came another radical change. By a fluke or a miracle, depending on your point of view, because of the confusion of a few disoriented voters in Palm Beach, Fla., this has been the decade of neoconservatism. Bismarck once said that God looks after fools, drunkards, children and the United States of America. Given the 2000 presidential election, it is clear that he works in very mysterious ways.
In place of realism or liberal internationalism, the past 4 1/2 years have seen an unashamed assertion and deployment of American power, a resort to unilateralism when necessary, and a willingness to pre-empt threats before they emerge. Most importantly, the second Bush administration has explicitly declared the spread of freedom to be the central principle of American foreign policy. George W. Bush’s second inaugural address in January was the most dramatic and expansive expression of this principle. A few weeks later, at the National Defense University, the president offered its most succinct formulation: “The defense of freedom requires the advance of freedom.”
I’m not challenging his conclusion, because that’s a different debate, and one with which I (mostly) agree. And I don’t want to get into the idea that God caused hanging chads and stupid voters so that George W. Bush could become President of the United States It’s silly and plays into the ridiculous “Republicans are godly, Democrats are godless” garbage so prevalent in our politics today. I will, however, accept the hyperbole for the sake of Mr. Krauthammer’s argument, since the logic in, and implicit in, the second paragraph is the support flaw in his argument. That is what I wish to tackle.
In the past (almost) 4 years, the world is different than it was before. This, of course, comes back to September 11, 2001, an event conservatives, neo- or otherwise, seem so willing to remember whenever it helps to score political points. Here, I think Mr. Krauthammer credits President Bush with too much of a pre-September 11th master plan for what has happened since that day.
The argument repeated shortly after the confusion dissipated after September 11th, some conservatives couldn’t restrain themselves from verbalizing the “Thank God Bush beat Gore in the election, can you imagine how much worse we’d be” nonsense. The only conclusion we can draw as to how a Gore presidency would’ve dealt with those days is that we don’t know. The rules changed on that day. President Bush had given no indication before then that his administration’s policy would deal with regime change and hunting terrorists into every corner where they hide; he had no reason to do so. We knew the threat existed, but we didn’t know how close it could hit us. We most certainly failed to understand the magnitude of the problem, but that failure didn’t strike only liberals.
Argue that liberals still don’t get it, and the facts will bear that out into obvious truth. Argue that we still need to be even more diligent in our pursuit of evil murderers, and we can debate the how. But don’t debate the merits of neoconservatives and President Bush’s doctrine compared to a hypothetical presidential administration. At some point we need to recognize that we have seen the enemy, and he is not Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative. Pushing that theory only serves to politically divide us further.
(Hat tip: Instapundit)