Thursday, January 11, 2007


[posted by Callimachus]

When my grandmother (b.1903) was a little girl and someone threw something on her dinner plate she didn't like, they told her to eat it and be grateful because there were "starving children in Armenia" who would love to have such a meal. When my mother (b.1933) was little, the starving children who hovered over the dinner table were in China. In my (b.1960) day they were African.

Now, Armenia's economic growth in 2005 was 13.9% (average salaries rose 24 percent and unemployment dropped by 18 percent), China has a dynamic consumer economy, and Africa -- well, we're working on that one.

I'm a Wilsonian, a Neo-Con, a nation-builder -- whatever you want to call us. I'm among the people who do believe in the American obligation to use its awesome power and its moment in history to help set the world in a better place -- all the more so because it is in our self-interest to do so, but it's the right thing to do anyhow.

I think of us as a people, not a government. A government has responsibilities only to its enfranchised citizens; a people has them to the future and the world. But the two ends can work together, and in our case generally they do. If, as the believers say, America has been "blessed," there it is.

Whenever I hear my liberal colleagues at the newspaper yowl about good jobs being in India now, or how this or that national economy somewhere in the world is out-performing ours in some sector, I say, "Great! What do you want to do? Go back to 1946, when the United States stood almost alone in prosperity and looked out over a world laid waste by totalitarianism, ignorance, and war? Do you think we should have hoarded our wealth forever?"

It's the best advertisement of our "empire" that its rising tide has lifted so many boats. Since the American "hegemony" began, more people outside the borders of America have become wealthier and healthier than at any time in history. That's no coincidence or accident. Even Romanitas only did you good if you lived behind the limes.

I used to think of my opponents as the Kissingerites, the cold-eyed realists who saw the world only through the lens of American government, not American people.

They're still with us, like The Man himself. But there's another strain out among us that I had not encountered during the Cold War, when I was growing up. What to call them? Anarcho-realists, perhaps.

Kissingerites were obsessed with stability. The Man's thesis hero was Metternich; his model was the Congress of Vienna. In a world with two superpowers armed to the teeth, balance at all costs made cruel sense, one could argue. Balance was national interest. I never accepted that entirely. And the Kissingerites made it a fetish, going so far as to see it where it was not.

But the Anarcho-realists are freed from the Cold War's constraints, and can see regional chaos as potentially in our national interest. I'll let Andrew Sullivan speak for them, in one particular case:

I've argued that withdrawal to Kurdistan, allowing the Sunni and Shia forces in Iraq to reach their own settlement through a real civil war with a real outcome, is something we need to think through. It may be less damaging to our interests than the surge. Its most important aspect is the way it changes the narrative of the war from Osama's "Islam vs the West" to "Islam vs itself". I think that's a strategic game-changer that may redound to our long-term advantage. It requires a United States prepared to let go of trying to control the region and stabilize it. I fear the president is unable to even think in such terms. But that doesn't mean we cannot.

He's right: It's "something we need to think through." But when we think about it, we ought to think, too, "is this the kind of people we are, or want to be?" Once having inserted ourselves into the situation, it becomes that much more our responsibility.

[Oh, the fools who want to write the rough draft of history will insist this is who we all are anyhow. They're already busily pecking keyboards to that effect.]

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