Yesterday [Wednesday] was given over to foreign policy at the Republican National Convention, and what a blast from the past it was – John McCain and Condi Rice singing a duo of "Give War A Chance." The only one missing was He Who Shall Not Be Named – but he was there in spirit.
McCain was his usual self, which is to say brimming over with the manic energy of a whirling dervish high on meth, bellicosity emanating like sweat from every pore. He reminded his audience that he had "hopes of addressing [you] under different circumstances," but having lost the election he had to settle for another role, that of Warmonger-in-residence, a position he shares with Senators Lindsay Graham and Joe Lieberman. Together, this chirping trio constitutes our chorus of war-birds, Senatorial shrikes who screech in unison whenever it appears America is passing up yet another opportunity to make war.
Since Joe wasn’t invited to this convention, and Sen. Graham said he was too busy, it fell to McCain to carry his "boots on the ground – any ground will do" message to the assembled delegates, and that he did:
"It is said that this election will turn on domestic and economic issues. But what Mitt Romney knows, and what we know is the success at home also depends on our leadership in the world. It is our willingness to shape world events for the better that has kept us safe, increased our prosperity, preserved our liberty and transformed human history."
Every jot and tittle of this is dead wrong: indeed, it is a nearly exact inversion of the historical reality. America’s rise was due to her physical isolation from the wiles and intrigues of the European empires: that distance saved us from becoming embroiled in the endless wars that plagued humankind. Our prosperity, far from deriving from the mythical idea of "leadership in the world," wasn’t the result of government action, either overseas or on the home front: it was the gift of the frontier to the women and men who conquered it, and made of it a nation. McCain’s contention is akin to President Obama’s "you didn’t build that" jibe at America’s entrepreneurs: it wasn’t Washington’s "leadership," either at home or abroad, that made this country great. I thought Republicans understood this. Ah, but not the McCainian Republicans, of which there are far too many.
Our efforts to "shape world events," far from increasing our prosperity, have impoverished us. The costs of the Iraq war, alone – of which McCain was and still is a fanatic proponent – would have been enough to drive us into penury, but that isn’t even the half of it. Since 9/11, the US has engaged in a military buildup that rivals the arms race of the cold war years. Resources that might have gone into the private economy were instead sucked up by the military sector, further impoverishing us.
If McCain had won in 2008, by this time we’d be in at least four wars – not only would we still be in Iraq, with no hope of ever getting out of Afghanistan, we’d also be fighting Iran, and battling it out with the Russkies in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. The cost of President McCain’s Teddy Roosevelt act would have been high enough to take us from penury to bankruptcy in no time – not to mention the price to be paid in blood.
The buzzwords – America the "exceptional nation," the equation of military action with efforts to eradicate disease and "uplift" the poor, the valorization of the military as a consecrated priesthood embodying our highest values – coagulate into boilerplate Republican bromides, a mantra of ideological emptiness endlessly repeated by Romney and his surrogates, but McCain gives it a little frisson:
"We can’t afford to cause our friends and allies, from Latin America to Europe to Asia to the Middle East, and especially in Israel, a nation under existential threat, to doubt America’s leadership. We can’t afford to give governments in Russia and China a veto over how we defend our interests and the progress of our values in the world."
In other words:
War with Iran is an enormously unpopular idea – unless you’re a crazed born-again Christian of the sort who believes America is Babylon, the end times are imminent, and loyalty to Israel is God’s will. These deluded doomsday dispensationalists are the bedrock of the GOP’s southern and Midwestern activist base, and revving these people up is what the festivities in Tampa are all about. The question is: how many normal Americans are repulsed by this kind of rhetoric?
Luckily for the GOP, most normal Americans aren’t paying the least bit of attention to Romney’s coronation, and so they will have missed McCain’s call to stay the course in Afghanistan:
"I believe we cannot afford to substitute a political timetable to a military strategy. By committing to withdraw from Afghanistan, the president has discouraged and emboldened our enemies, which is why our commanders did not recommend these decisions, and why they have said it puts our mission at much greater risk."
When even most Republicans have given up on Afghanistan, there is Mad John, fighting a rearguard action against the overwhelming number of Americans who want out. Yet this is what is supposed to make McCain so "gutsy," a reputation that once made him the favorite of liberal reporters who loved to hear him diss conservatives: his alleged willingness to take a stand for principle. That’s what’s behind his accusation that the Obamaites are employing a "political timetable" in Afghanistan. The war, as McCain surely realizes, is opposed by most voters – but that, in McCain’s book, is no reason not to push it. The people must be led – or ignored.
Condi Rice’s contribution to the proceedings were notable for what was not said: there was no mention of Iraq, or where it’s fabled weapons of mass destruction may have gone off to. She who warned us of the looming "mushroom cloud" that would forever darken our lives with its shadow was silent on the subject, except for the claim that "hostile neighbors are challenging the young, fragile democracy of Iraq."
To characterize the thuggish regime of religious fanatics we installed, succored, and supported as if it were a fair and fragile damsel in a bit of distress is to stretch the truth well beyond the breaking point – even making allowances for the fact that this is a Republican convention. The biggest obstacle to democracy and liberty in Iraq is the Iraqi government – a government installed at gunpoint by the US while Condi was presiding over the State Department.
The real meat of her message, however, was her acknowledgment of the war weariness of the American people, and not only that but the weariness with our "world leadership" role:
"And I know too – I know too there is a weariness. I know that it feels as if we have carried these burdens long enough. But we can only know that there is no choice, because one of two things will happen if we don’t lead. Either no one will lead and there will be chaos, or someone will fill the vacuum who does not share our values.
"My fellow Americans, we do not have a choice. We cannot be reluctant to lead and you cannot lead from behind."
This conceit, that the world will fall apart if we don’t direct it, is an updated version of the old British rationale for empire: the white man’s burden. It is more than a bit mortifying to see Ms. Rice repeat this tired old saw, but then again that’s one of the more dubious benefits of living in a "multicultural" America: we have people of all races making the most appallingly racist arguments.
Yes, people, we have no choice but to police the world, fight endless wars, and borrow money from the Chinese to pay for it: no choice but to put our children in debt, and their children, too. Is this kind of slavery really preferable to "chaos"? I wonder.
I also wonder who is the real sower of chaos in the international arena: would Iraq be lit up with car bombs exploding if we hadn’t "liberated" them in a war Condi will never live down?
As the world economy contracts, and the results of the global financial bubble generated by America’s Federal Reserve continue to reverberate, no country is going to want to fill the costly role of world policeman. Condi avers that "someone will fill the vacuum," but never lets on as to who that Someone might be, and for a very good reason: there is no likely successor to the US as self-appointed world hegemon, nor is there anyone who might conceivably be in a position to threaten US national security. The Russians are in a big decline, their population is rapidly shrinking, and the Chinese are far too smart to indulge in the expensive game of empire-building. They don’t want to take up the White Man’s Burden – they just want to make money, and keep the White Man off their turf.
Foreign policy night in Tampa has reinforced my theory that the GOP is deliberately throwing this election: after all, why haul out a defeated presidential candidate and a top official who served a Republican President of recent vintage whom no one dares mention by name? What better way to establish an aura of defeat than to feature these two, back to back, onstage?
The less said about Rand Paul’s speech – he was followed by McCain – the better. He gets zero credit for his very tame remark that "not every dollar spent on the military is necessary or well spent." His fellow Republican Senators McCain and Graham say the same thing: they, too, are against "waste" in the military spending. Yet when one’s concept of the mission is as expansive as McCain’s and Graham’s, one man’s waste is another man’s necessity. Interventionism on the cheap is no less dangerous than the money-is-no-object variety: it makes for an unsafe world in which Americans, in particular, are at risk. His praise for Romney was as unconvincing as it was nauseating – especially in view of the fact that Paul delegates were at that very moment getting ready to walk out of the convention in protest of having their duly-elected delegates from Maine purged by the Republican National Committee.