Monday, August 28, 2006

Post-Bushist foreign policy

Anatol Lieven, in the latest issue of Prospect:

If therefore both party establishments are wedded to the basic lines of the present US course, what are the chances of successful domestic revolt against this course? Since the present line is adhered to be the bipartisan establishment, it follows that any revolt against it would have to enjoy massive support from ordinary Americans, and in particular from the most important political constituency and political bellwether, the white middle classes of the "heartland." It would therefore have to appeal to the core traditions of this constituency. In this context, that means a mixture of intense nationalism with deep distrust of foreign entanglements – a mixture dubbed "isolationism" by the imperial elites, though by no means fairly.

The Left faces immense obstacles in appealing to the heartland. Its cosmopolitan traditions and above all its hostility to religion make it culturally very alien to the world of the suburbs and small towns of middle America. It is also wedded to its own version of liberal interventionism. If I have to listen to another American anti-Bush liberal damn the war in Iraq and then advocate US military intervention in Darfur I may eat my beard. This is both intellectual and electoral folly: intellectual, because there are no rational grounds for believing that a US military which has failed so badly in policing one bitterly-divided Muslim society would play a successful role in another. Electoral, because you cannot successfully appeal to ordinary Americans to reject a war for which at least some justification could be manufactured in terms of defending America, and then ask them to support another war for which there is no argument from national interest at all.

A much more hopeful prospect in the long run lies in a combination between the moderate realists and a populist revolt in the heartland against the costs of empire. Indeed, this would seem to me virtually inevitable sooner or later. As soon as it becomes clearly apparent to the White middle classes that a continuation of present levels of military spending and foreign policy activism requires the abolition of key middle class entitlements – social security, Medicare, mortgage relief and so on – mass pressure for a withdrawal from present levels of engagement will become overwhelming. This will happen all the sooner in the context of an economic recession, or if another war makes the reintroduction of conscription a real possibility.

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