Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What, Do You Think?

[posted by Callimachus]

Glenn Greenwald is miffed because Daniel Drezner called him a pacifist. As if there could be any such coherent ideology behind his outpourings. A whole sack-full of pundits in what is mis-called the liberal wing of American politics can be described most accurately not by what they are, but by what they are against: people from Greenwald to Michael Moore to Cindy Sheehan to Maureen Dowd.

This is more, I think, than simply happening to stand in opposition to the ruling party. Which is why I usually think of them collectively as "antis."

The state of the world makes it easy for them. Default single-superpower American hegemony allows a mere attitude toward the United States and its defining institutions to pass for a world-view that's been thought about for more than 60 consecutive seconds.

The old pacifists of the 19th and early 20th centuries at least had to face a multi-polar militarized world, where disarmament could proceed sanely only through international agreement and institutions. That still didn't stop a dedicated minority of idealists from advocating unilateral disarmament of Britain or America, of course, in the firm faith France, Germany, Russia, and Italy would then see the light and follow. But the complex realities of the case kept most pacifists from going down that path (the saner ones sometimes are called pacificists) and it kept the general public from buying into the argument at all in any large numbers except, tragically, in the 1930s.

Their modern descendants, however, can say, and believe, "the sole cause of problem X in country Y is the United States and its policies. Change the policies, remove the United States from the situation, and the problem naturally will resolve itself." Or not, but in any case the interposition of the United States in country Y is, in their formulation, a greater evil than any which could result from problem X.

So what is Greenwald? He recently wrote, "the U.S. should not attack another country unless that country has attacked or directly threatens our national security ...." Which (leaving aside the Gordian knot of marking the bounds of "national interests") would seem to define him as a "defensist" in the old view. Their motto was Vegetius' Igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum. Seventy years ago, that meant supporting the maintenance of a military so strong it not only could repel an invasion, it would discourage another power from even attempting one. In the current framing, it would involve an active and vigorous policing of the borders and immigration, and enhanced surveillance and espionage.

None of which sounds like Glenn Greenwald's position (or Molly Ivins' when she lived, or Paul Krugman's, etc.).

Greenwald himself almost makes it explicit: I suspect, if he thought about it, he'd say the playing field is so tilted, so lopsided, there's no point in having a set of rules for everyone. Just enough ropes to tie down Gulliver.

Put simply, there is no reasonable way to compare the use of military force by the U.S. to any other country on the planet. We spend more on our military than every other country combined. We spend six times more on our military than China, the next largest military spender.

It has been difficult for me to find any passage in the vast corpus of Glenn Greenwald that addresses military policies or global politics generally that isn't a sentence complaining of America and its imperialism. This approach to the world goes down a path that ends in saying Iran and North Korea should not be sanctioned for pursuing nuclear weapons because they do so in justified fear of America. Or that terrorism against civilians is explicable, if not justified, because it is the only effective tactical weapon against so mighty a military power as America.

Even if it never goes that far, the attitude fails to take the simple step of turning the thing on its head and asks who but us will keep pirates from the international waters or deliver mass amounts of humanitarian relief in natural disasters, given the unwillingness or inability of most of the rest of the world to field a muscular military. If not this, then what? And is "what" better? And for whom?

But that would be thinking, and thinking takes time away from automatic writing.

His insistence is that America is an "empire" or pursues "imperialist" policies. It is interesting to me how eager he is to apply that word to America but he studiedly avoids it with reference to the historical USSR, writing instead of "Soviet influence." He asks what defining behaviors of past empires we have not shown: How about the core one: "the possession of final authority by one entity over the vital political decisions of another. This need not mean direct rule exercised by formal occupation and administration; most empires involve informal, indirect rule. But real empire requires that effective final authority, and states can enjoy various forms of superiority or even domination over others without being empires."

In fact, he's pretty confused about who his enemies are and what they think.

Ruling the world that way through superior military force -- starting wars even when our national security is not directly at risk -- is the definitional behavior of an empire.

No, it isn't. Those sorts of behaviors are characteristic of two different philosophies: militarism, which sees wars of conquest as means to advance civilization, and what might be called "crusading," which allows that, in some cases, military action against a nation even in the absence of a direct threat can open a path to greater overall freedom and justice and stability in a region or the world.

What he's really "anti" is those two things: militarism and the crusading spirit. For some reason he tangles it all up in imperialism. They are not the same. A distaste for militarism can go hand in hand with, for instance, a fondness for diplomacy, which would be laughable in someone who claims to be exercised primarily over imperialism. If there was a greater aid to imperialism than militarism, it was diplomacy, which allowed the great powers (almost by definition European Christian nations) to carve up the world bloodlessly amid the musical ring of champagne toasts.

Labels: ,