Reality Strikes Again

Ross Douthat writes in  today’s NYT (“Obama the Realist“):

On the campaign trail in 2008, Barack Obama played to two very different foreign policy constituencies. Often he presented himself as the tribune of the anti-war left — the only candidate who had opposed the invasion of Iraq from the beginning, the man who could be trusted to civilize the global war on terror, and the perfect figure to smooth the transition to a post-American world order. To more bipartisan audiences, though, he cast himself as a cold-eyed realist — the rightful heir to George H. W. Bush, if not Henry Kissinger, who would pursue America’s interests without pretending (as the younger President Bush often did) that they matched up perfectly with America’s democratic ideals….

From the war on terror to the current unrest in Egypt, [Obama’s] foreign policy has owed far more to conservative realpolitik than to any left-wing vision of international affairs….

On nearly every anti-terror front, from detainee policy to drone strikes, the Obama administration has been what The Washington Times’s Eli Lake calls a “9/14 presidency,” maintaining or even expanding the powers that George W. Bush claimed in the aftermath of 9/11. (Dick Cheney himself admitted as much last month, effectively retracting his 2009 claim that Obama’s terrorism policies were undermining national security.) Time and again, this president has proved himself a careful custodian of both American and presidential prerogatives — and the most perceptive critics of his policies, tellingly, have been civil libertarians rather than Republican partisans.

Obama’s adoption of realpolitik is unsurprising to me. In the heat of the 2004 election, when Kerry had pulled even with Bush in the polls and it seemed that Kerry the anti-warrior might become president, I wrote this:

Assuming the best on the domestic front — that is, deadlock — what about the war on terror? All wouldn’t be lost if Kerry were to win the White House. He says dangerous multilateralist things about defense policy. But, in these times of clear and present danger, even a Democrat president will put defense above the trappings of internationalism. A massive failure to defend the homeland or to secure vital overseas interests would ensure a rout in the mid-term elections and a one-term presidency, if not impeachment.

It is good to know that Obama seems to take seriously his role as commander-in-chief. But I do wonder whether his new-found “realism” arises from a sense of responsibility or fear of impeachment.  I would not rule out the latter.

Liberalism and Sovereignty

Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek writes about liberalism:

One of the great tenets of liberalism — the true sort of liberalism, not the dirigiste ignorance that today, in English-speaking countries, flatters itself unjustifiably with that term — is that no human being is less worthy just because he or she is outside of a particular group. Any randomly chosen stranger from Cairo or Cancun has as much claim on my sympathies and my respect and my regard as does any randomly chosen person from Charlottesville or Chicago.

Boudreaux is correct in saying that what is now called “liberalism” is not liberalism; it is a virulent strain of statism. Boudreaux’s strain of old-fashioned or “classical” liberalism is nowadays called libertarianism. But Boudreaux is one of those holdouts who insists that he is a liberal. There is much error in libertarianism but it is on the side of the angels by comparison with the modern, left-statist jumble of dogmas that goes by the names “liberalism” and “progressivism”.

Returning to Boudreaux’s post: He also states a (truly) liberal value, namely, that respect for others should not depend on where they happen to live. But it is prudent to put more trust in those who have proven their affection and support for you, than it is to trust those not-so-close to you — whether they live next door, in the inner city, or in Timbuktu.

And that is where Boudreaux, most self-styled libertarians, and all pacifists go off the rails. As Boudreaux says later in the same post:

[L]iberalism rejects the notion that there is anything much special or compelling about political relationships. It is tribalistic, atavistic, to regard those who look more like you to be more worthy of your regard than are those who look less like you. It is tribalistic, atavistic, to regard those who speak your native tongue to be more worthy of your affection and concern than are those whose native tongues differ from yours.

For the true liberal, the human race is the human race.  The struggle is to cast off as much as possible primitive sentiments about “us” being different from “them.”

The problem with such sentiments is the implication that we have nothing more to fear from people of foreign lands than we have to fear from our own friends and neighbors. Yet, as Boudreaux himself acknowledges,

[t]he liberal is fully aware that such sentiments [about “us” being different from “them”] are rooted in humans’ evolved psychology, and so are not easily cast off.  But the liberal does his or her best to rise above those atavistic sentiments,

Yes, the Boudreaux-like liberal does strive to rise above such sentiments, but not everyone else makes the same effort, as Boudreaux admits. Therein lies the problem.

Americans, as a mostly undifferentiated mass, are disdained and hated by many foreigners. (Aside: Conservative Americans, whether “deplorable” or not, are hated as a mostly undifferentiated mass by leftists, who are extreme tribalists.) The disdain and hatred arise from a variety of sources, ranging from pseudo-intellectual snobbery to nationalistic rivalry to anti-Western fanaticism. When the hatred leads to aggression, that aggression is aimed at all Americans: liberal, “liberal,” conservative, libertarian, bellicose, pacifistic, tribal, or whatever.

Leftists like to deploy the slogan “We’re all in this together” to justify their economically and socially destructive schemes. But when it comes to defense against foreign aggression, Americans truly are “all in this together”. The bitter irony is that leftists are generally uninterested in that crucial aspect of togetherness.

The Framers of the Constitution, being both smart and realistic, “did ordain and establish” a new form of government “in Order to . . . provide for the common defence” (and a few other things). That is to say, the Framers recognized the importance of establishing the United States as a sovereign state for limited and specified purposes, while preserving the sovereignty of the several States and their inhabitants for all other purposes.

If Americans do not mutually defend themselves through the sovereign state which was established for that purpose, who will do so? That is the question which liberals (both true and false) often fail to ask. Instead, they tend to propound internationalism for its own sake. It is a mindless internationalism, one that often disdains America’s sovereignty, and the defense thereof.

One manifestation of mindless internationalism is “transnationalism”:

“Transnationalism” challenges the traditional American understanding that (in the summary, which I slightly adapt, of Duke law professor Curtis A. Bradley) “international and domestic law are distinct, [the United States] determines for itself [through its political branches] when and to what extent international law is incorporated into its legal system, and the status of international law in the domestic system is determined by domestic law.”Transnationalists aim in particular to use American courts to import international law to override the policies adopted through the processes of representative government. [Ed Whelan, “Harold Koh’s Transnationalism“, National Review (The Corner), April 6, 2009]

Mindless internationalism equates sovereignty with  jingoism, protectionism, militarism, and other deplorable “isms”. It ignores or denies the hard reality that Americans and their legitimate overseas interests are threatened by nationalistic rivalries and anti-Western fanaticism. “Transnationalism” is just a “soft” form of aggression; it would erode American values from the inside out, though American leftists hardly need any help from their foreign allies.

In the real world of powerful international rivals and determined, resourceful fanatics, the benefits afforded Americans by our (somewhat eroded) constitutional contract — most notably the enjoyment of civil liberties, the blessings of  free markets, and the protections of a common defense — are inseparable from and dependent upon the sovereignty of the United States.  To cede that sovereignty for the sake of mindless internationalism is to risk the complete loss of the benefits promised by the Constitution.