More on Nationalism

Considering the post I wrote the other day on nationalism, I was interested to see this post on Zero Hedge, “Nationalism and Its Discontents: A Deep Rumination on the Meaning of Trump.”

It starts with Fukuyama’s essay, “The End of History?” In this case, I read the book of the same title. Much like “The Clash of Civilizations,” Fukuyama’s argument is often reduced to its title. Raimondo summarizes the idea as the world approaching a “universal homogenous state” which would end with “U.S. hegemony over the entire earth.” This isn’t quite what Fukuyama said, but Raimondo doesn’t seem to have been the only one to have heard this. I have not reread the book in the two decades since it came out in paperback, but as I recall it was about the triumph of the liberalism as an idea, not about the domination of other countries by the West, let alone the United States of America. However, some people, especially political thinkers in the U.S.A., were very happy see in the end of the Cold War, not a triumph of liberal ideas, but a victory for the U.S.A.

Raimondo’s first paragraph is disappointingly inaccurate. I was going to write something else, but I find I’m being held up by this fact. He follows his several sentences on Fukuyama with

In a symposium commenting on Fukuyama’s thesis, the ever-practical Charles Krauthammer nevertheless insisted that it would be necessary for the United States to hurry History along by force of arms. In a subsequent polemic in Foreign Affairs, he argued that we ought to take advantage of “the unipolar moment” to “integrate” the US, Japan, and Europe into a “super-sovereign” global empire united by a “new universalism” – which, he averred, “is not as outrageous as it sounds.”

I followed the link to the Foreign Affairs article and could not find in it “new universalism,” “is not as outrageous as it sounds” or “super-sovereign.” I am not found of Krauthammer and disagree with the aggressive foreign policy that he advocates in the article, “The Unipolar Moment,” however Raimondo’s inaccuracy is annoying. I thought I would just summarize Raimondo’s post because I liked it, recommend people read it and go to bed. Perhaps Raimondo is working from memory. I’m not going to be able to double check all or Raimondo’s statements, so I’ll go back to my original plan of summarizing, although the errors do weaken the point. They’re all the more annoying because I think the basic point is a good one. I thought it was good until I read the Krauthammer article and saw that the words Raimondo quotes are not there.

So, Raimondo recounts an argument which occurred in conservative circles at the end of the Cold War, one that pitted internationalists advocating an aggressive foreign policy against isolationists. The people who we would come to call the “neo-cons” wanted to take advantage of what Krauthammer called “the unipolar moment” and actively assert the United States’ dominance.

Blinded by hubris, enthralled by the possibilities of unlimited power, the neocons – and their liberal internationalist doppelgangers on the other side of the political spectrum – didn’t see the nationalist backlash coming.

In Raimondo’s retelling, the isolationist impulse is exemplified by Patrick Buchanan.

Buchanan’s answer to Krauthammer’s globalism was a foreign policy of “enlightened nationalism”: “total withdrawal of US troops from Europe,” and a rejection of the idea – nowhere authorized in the Constitution – that the President and/or Congress has the power to sacrifice its sons on the altar of some crazed crusade for “global democracy.”

According to Raimondo, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks the neo-cons were able to redirect that nationalistic sentiment and use it “to mobilize the American people behind a crusade to transform the Middle East.” Then, after years of war, the citizens of the United States had a desire to return to “normalcy” and “elected a President who vowed to end the wars.”

…that promise, however was not kept, and Barack Obama will leave office with the US once again in the middle of at least three wars, and with a hand in several others on their periphery. Yet the nationalist impulse – which is, in part, an “isolationist” impulse – is stronger than ever, laying just beneath the surface of the American political landscape, waiting for someone to pick up its banner.

That someone turned out to be Donald Trump.

Trump’s nationalism has elements that are “useful, instructive, and even admirable.” Regarding the demagogic elements that many conservatives who dislike Trump see in him, Raimondo says:

Yet demagoguery didn’t bother them when it was deployed by George W. Bush as he marched us off to a disastrous war – a war Trump opposed, and continues to denounce today – and implied that his critics were in league with America’s enemies. … Demagoguery in the service of mass murder is fine with them: it’s only when their own methods are turned against them that the War Party starts to get religion.

The hypocrisy of the conservative stance against Trump can also be seen in the reaction to Trump’s immigration stance. Raimondo calls the National Review “a veritable fount of anti-Muslim propaganda.”

No, the real motive behind the neoconservative holy war against Trump is rooted in his foreign policy positions, which the neocons rightly view as a direct threat to their internationalist project.

Raimondo then turns his focus away from the conservatives, emphasizing that in Washington D.C. there is an “internationalist-interventionist consensus.” His target is a piece written by Thomas Wright, “director of the Project on International Order and Strategy at The Brookings Institution,” which Raimondo says if funded by Qatar. (He has a link I haven’t followed.)

Examining Trump’s foreign policy pronouncements over the years – the GOP frontrunner wonders why we are stationing 28,000 troops in South Korea, complains that we’re defending Japan while they slap tariffs on our products, and says we have no business stationing tens of thousands of soldiers in Europe, which can damn well take care of itself – Wright trots out the hate figures interventionists love to excoriate. Trump is like Robert A. Taft, who didn’t want us to join NATO: he’s like Charles Lindbergh, a leader of the anti-interventionist America First Committee, a particular hate-figure of the interventionist-neocon foreign policy Establishment. And, of course, Trump is an “isolationist,” because he’s sick of coddling our shiftless “allies” while they rip us off and laugh at us behind our back, all the while huddling under the protective wingspan of the American eagle.

All of this is no doubt reassuring to Wright’s Qatari paymasters, who have a lot to lose if Trump should win the White House and present them with a bill for services rendered. But in reading Wright’s list of Trumpist foreign policy heresies, one can’t help but think that the average American would agree with each and every one of The Donald’s complaints about the profligate paternalism involved in maintaining this precious “international order” Wright would have us enforce for free.

The following paragraph is interesting and I’d like to highlight it:

“To understand Trump, in the end, we have to go back to Taft and Lindbergh,” avers Wright, and in this he is absolutely correct. It’s a pity some of my libertarian friends fail to see this, but they are blinded by cultural factors and held captive by political correctness: immigration matters more to them than foreign policy. What they don’t understand is that the question of war and peace is the central issue of modern times. They fail to appreciate the foreign policy paradigm shift represented by Trump’s political success. However, Wright does understand it, along with his neoconservative comrades over at National Review and the Weekly Standard.

Robert A. Taft was a conservative Republican politician who opposed U.S. entry into the Second World War.

Raimondo concludes:

The lesson to be taken from this episode is the centrality of foreign policy in the political life of our country. The doggedness with which the internationalists are attacking Trump, the nature of their criticisms, and the viciousness of their tactics is an indication of how hard it will be to dislodge them – just as Trump’s popularity shows how eager Americans are to hear someone tell them that we don’t have to continue being the policeman of the world….

The meaning of Trumpism is that Americans want to rid themselves of the burden of empire…. Trump’s rise augurs a seismic shift in the foreign policy debate in this country, marking the end of the interventionist consensus that dominates both parties. And it certainly means the final defeat and humiliation of the neoconservatives…. And that alone is worth whatever price we have to pay for the triumph of Trump. For the neocons are the very core of the War Party: their demise as a politically effective force inside the GOP is an event that every person who wants a more peaceful world has been longing for and should celebrate.

When the Republican-controlled Congress in the Clinton era threatened to pull the funding from Bill Clinton’s war in the former Yugoslavia, Bill Kristol threatened to walk out of the GOP. Today, as Trump appears to be the likely Republican presidential nominee, Kristol is threatening to start his own party.

This is all very interesting.

Although I’ve been critical of anti-war people for their tendency to downplay the consequences of their decisions. At the same time, I am not in favor of an aggressive foreign policy, either. In Krauthammer’s Foreign Affairs article there is a mention of another point of view which is neither isolationist nor interventionist which Krauthammer calls realism.

Isolationism is the most extreme expression of the American desire to return to tend its vineyards. But that desire finds expression in another far more sophisticated and serious foreign policy school: not isolationism but realism, the school that insists that American foreign policy be guided solely by interests and that generally defines these interests in a narrow and national manner.

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