National Review test drives several critiques of Obama’s speech in Berlin. He is insincere? Maybe, but “most voters don’t seem to buy this line of attack, and it risks making conservatives look bitter, marginalized, and defeated already.” They decide to go with the “utopian-radical foreign policy” critique, instead.
A much surer critique, arising directly out of the speech itself, is to point out that it is much too utopian… a world without nuclear weapons, a world without carbon emissions, a “new dawn” in the Middle East, a helping hand to the Bangladeshi child, the Chad refugee, the dissident in Burma, the voter in Zimbabwe, and so on…Obama may or may not be a left-wing radical. He is certainly a utopian radical.
Given Bush’s fundamental foreign-policy radicalism, and National Review’s support of these policies, this is ironic. (“Radical” and “ironic” seem to be two widely misused words.)
To simplify, Radicals see the political world as:
1. Needing dramatic change, if not a complete revolution from the current state of affairs. The status quo is Evil, and we must fight to replace it with the Good; 3. Perfectible, and hyper-rational. The political world can be perfected through reason, and Radicals have developed precisely the right plan to carry out their aims. 4. Unmarred by potential problems. All problems can be solved simply, by following the specified steps. (The last point shows why “utopian radical” is a bit oxymoronic.)
The traditional Conservative–such as National Review, back in the day–defines him or herself as against the Radical, and the Conservative response to these ideas has been as follows:
1. Dramatic political change, especially revolution, will most likely make things worse. Revolutions, for example, inevitably end in violence and degradation. 2. We are not rational, and “reason” is most often just a fig leaf for our cherished, unexamined views. We are generally unable to distinguish between reality and sympathetic views of ourselves (as representing the Good, and our enemies Evil, for example); 4. Some problems may be insoluble; and/or our favorite solutions may make things worse, and will have many unintended consequences.
The Bolsheviks, for example, were quintessential Radicals. For the Conservative, therefore, Stalin’s crimes were not a horrible deviation from the ideals of the Russian Revolution, but a predictable consequence of the revolution.
Back to the ironic part. NRO has been full-throated in its support of Bush’s foreign policy, which has in fact been full of parallels to Bolshevik radicalism.
Bush the Radical
Bush’s friends and enemies agree that he has been a foreign-policy radical.
In a paper called “A Radical Change,” the Brookings Institution argues “President Bush has launched a foreign-policy revolution that has discarded or redefined many of the key principles governing how America engages the world.” The author decries this dramatic shift, but Radicals don’t, of course.
In “Bush the Radical,” Daniel Pipes is thrilled by Bush’s “jaw-dropping repudiation of an established bipartisan policy ever made by a US president…a break with a policy the US government has pursued since first becoming a major player in the Middle East.” Pipes happily lists three huge changes:
Iraq: He brushed aside the long-standing policy of deterrence, replacing it in June 2002 with an approach of hitting before getting hit.
Arab-Israeli conflict: “The most surprising and daring step of his presidency.” He changed presumptions, imposing [his] vision on the parties, tying results to a specific timetable, and replacing leaders of whom he disapproved.
Democracy: The president renounced a long-accepted policy of… getting along with dictators – and stated US policy would henceforth fit with its global emphasis of making democracy the goal… [It was] “a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East.”
Fascinating, big-picture stuff, of course, but “Bush is No Conservative.”
True conservatives, following Edmund Burke, do not believe that a country can be shorn of its social, political, economic, and cultural ways and made anew from the ashes.
In true Jacobin, Bolshevik, Cultural Revolution, neoconservative fashion, the job Bush wants to accomplish is the deracination of Islam and the recreation of Muslim society in America’s image. It is impossible to imagine a less conservative goal.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, erstwhile academic Sovietologist and Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor, argues the Bush administration’s foreign policy can be summarized in the following quote by the President: “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” It’s a stance “straight from (Soviet leader Vladimir) Lenin.”
Francis Fukuyama seems to agree.
FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: I think there are these broad social and economic processes that lead to modernisation that ultimately drive countries to becoming democratic or adapting democratic institutions. And I think what my neo-con friends wanted to do was speed up the process by using American power to drive things forward. So that’s the difference between Marx and Lenin. Lenin wanted to use power to bring the revolution closer and I think that the original Leninism didn’t work very well and I think that the new American Leninism was a similar disaster.
TONY JONES: So Donald Rumsfeld effectively surrounded himself by a group of dangerous Bolsheviks?
FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: There is an element of Bolshevism, in thinking that power can achieve these ambitious goals of social transformation and I think one of the things we’ve learned in the 20th Century is that that kind of ambitious social engineering really brings a lot of unanticipated consequences
This has not escaped the attention of the Russians.
Moscow pundits perceive the Bush administration as guided by an idealistic notion of leading a global democratic revolution. Such aggressive idealism reminds the analysts of the Bolsheviks, who, shortly after staging their coup in 1917, vigorously pursued their fantasy of engineering a global communist revolution.
The idealism that underpins the Bush administration’s foreign policy allows US officials to justify any divergence between rhetoric and action… Such was also the case with the Bolsheviks. …On the one hand, US officials have been outspoken advocates of the rule of law. But when a geopolitical opportunity has arisen to achieve democratic change, the United States has sanctioned the application of “revolutionary law,” Aleksandr Tsipko said. Revolutionary law, a concept also espoused by the Bolsheviks, allows for the use of extra-legal “crowd action” to overhaul the existing political order.
Tsipko added that in practice the United States has operated in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere, including Iraq, by relying on the quintessentially Bolshevist principle that holds “the ends justifies the means.” Behind it “is the same [Bolshevist-type] system of ethics that deems moral everything that serves US interests and the same Bolshevist indifference to the value of human life,” Tsipko said.
Lenin was supposed to have said, “You can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs.” Bush is more vulgar, but the thought is the same. According to Ricardo Sanchez, formerly the supreme commander of all US troops in Iraq, Bush gave the following pep talk, which is worthy of a third-rate, first-generation Communist cadre.
“Kick ass!” he quotes the president as saying. “If somebody tries to stop the march to democracy, we will seek them out and kill them! …We have a better way. Stay strong! Stay the course! Kill them! Be confident! Prevail! We are going to wipe them out! We are not blinking!”
Yet National Review fears Obama’s utopian radicalism, with all that scary talk of “a helping hand to the Bangladeshi child, the Chad refugee, the dissident in Burma, the voter in Zimbabwe, and so on.”