April 26, 2007

Hegemony-Speak for, "I Love You"

At the beginning of Part VI of my "Dominion Over the World" series, I excerpted a notable article by William Pfaff:
[L]ittle sign exists of a challenge in American foreign policy debates to the principles and assumptions of an international interventionism motivated by belief in a special national mission. The country might find itself with a new administration in 2009 which provides a less abrasive and more courteous version of the American pursuit of world hegemony, but one still condemned by the inherent impossibility of success.

The intellectual and material commitments made during the past half-century of American military, bureaucratic, and intellectual investment in global interventionism will be hard to reverse. The Washington political class remains largely convinced that the United States supplies the essential structure of international security, and that a withdrawal of American forces from their expanding network of overseas military bases, or disengagement from present American interventions into the affairs of many dozens of countries, would destabilize the international system and produce unacceptable consequences for American security. Why this should be so is rarely explained.
-- William Pfaff, "Manifest Destiny: A New Direction for America"
Toward the end of that essay, which largely focuses on the uniformity of belief and purpose that unites all members of our governing class, Republican or Democrat, in the realm of foreign policy, I wrote:
As Pfaff notes, such a noninterventionist approach would have avoided Vietnam, and the related tragedies in Cambodia and Laos as well. And it would have avoided our endless interventions in the Middle East since World War II, and in Iraq today. I am pleased to note that, still later in his essay, Pfaff discusses "limits to the feasibility of humanitarian intervention," a subject I addressed in Part I of this series. He also notes the expansion of our interventionism into Africa, which I mentioned just the other day.

Tragically, both for us and for the world, adoption of a noninterventionist approach by the United States would appear impossible in the foreseeable future -- and we are left with the intractable and seemingly insurmountable problem set forth in Pfaff's observations at the opening of this essay. As Pfaff indicates, a new Democratic (or possibly even Republican) administration may "provide[] a less abrasive and more courteous version of the American pursuit of world hegemony" -- but hegemony will remain the goal. Every Democrat who has already announced his or her presidential ambitions has made numerous statements explicitly embracing this aim.
On that last point, see the references to the foreign policy prescriptions offered by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton that I noted earlier today. The uniformity of perspective on foreign affairs among our governing class and the foreign policy establishment cannot be overstated. As my "Dominion Over the World" series explores in detail, virtually every member of our governing elites is committed to the goal of American global hegemony. Their disagreements are rooted primarily in political tribalism: each party wants to be the one running the show, but the fundamental goals do not change no matter who is in charge.

It is true that the Democrats make more noises in the direction of "multilateralism" and "diplomacy" than do the Republicans -- but in light of the ultimate purposes that drive all of them, this finally reduces to a distinction without a difference. This is, in part, what Pfaff means by "a less abrasive and more courteous version of the American pursuit of hegemony." And as Hillary Clinton just announced (again), she'll be happy to try diplomacy with Iran to get what she and the foreign policy establishment demand, but if that doesn't work, bombs away. She thinks "it would be far better if the rest of the world saw [offensive military action against Iran] as a position of last resort," but if they don't (and it would appear, even if it actually isn't), to hell with them. It should also be noted that, from one perspective, an emphasis on "multilateralism" and numerous entangling alliances makes the prospect of war more likely, not less. The runup to World War I is highly instructive in this regard; see Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August and David Fromkin's Europe's Last Summer for numerous details. (A discussion of certain aspects of Fromkin's book, together with some excerpts, will be found in Part V of my first series of essays about Iran and foreign policy more generally: Endless War, and the Destructive Search for "Meaning".)

In this connection, and in between bouts of extended un- and semi-consciousness over the last month or so brought on by the deaths of two people close to me and a succession of health ailments of my own, I read Robert Charles Wilson's Spin. I don't read that much science fiction; I have a very low tolerance for highly geeky science fiction, filled with incomprehensible gadgets and often indecipherable and undefined, imagined terminology. About the only science fiction I read is much more akin to "regular" fiction, with its emphasis on recognizable human psychology and human dilemmas, spiced with but not overwhelmed by the futurist elements. In that respect, I enjoyed Spin a great deal, and it's very well done in many ways. And Wilson's imagined scenario is a highly intriguing one. Spin is certainly not memorable in the manner of Arthur Clarke's Childhood's End, for example, but then, not all that many books are, and it's probably an unfair comparison. Childhood's End remains a particular favorite of mine: it touches on important issues of psychology, cultural development and cultural mythology, in addition to which the final resolution is a genuine doozy. Still, Spin provided me with hours of pleasure, for which I am always tremendously grateful. (If you can recommend some good science fiction that I might enjoy along the lines I've indicated, please do let me know. Thanks.)

A propos the above discussion of foreign policy, I thought you might derive as much enjoyment from this brief passage from Spin as I did. As you'll see, you don't need to know about the story to appreciate it, and if you read Spin, the less you know about the story in advance, the better. A little more than halfway through the book, two of the main characters are discussing the questions raised by the appearance on Earth of Wun Ngo Wen, the man from Mars. The conversation goes like this:
"Would I be here talking to you if I thought this was an interesting analysis? Ask the appropriate questions, if you want to argue with me."

"Such as?"

"Such as, who exactly is Wun Ngo Wen? Who does he represent, and what does he really want? Because despite what they say on television, he's not Mahatma Gandhi in a Munchkin package. He's here because he wants something from us. He's wanted it from day one."

"The replicator launch."


"Is that a crime?"

"A better question would be, why don't the Martians do this launch themselves?"

"Because they can't presume to speak on behalf of the entire solar system. Because a work like this can't be undertaken unilaterally."

He rolled his eyes. "Those are things people say, Tyler. Talking about multilateralism and diplomacy is like saying, 'I love you' -- it serves to facilitate the fucking.
Unless, of course, the Martians really are angelic spirits descended from heaven to deliver us from evil. Which I presume you don't believe."
I so wish I had written that line about multilateralism and diplomacy. Well, Wilson did, and that's just fine.