In Search of an Historical Metaphor

I am crafting my list of essential reads for politics and policy in America (I’m calling it the Bull Moose List) with a view to sharing it on July 4 if all goes well.

I have just added to that list Cullen Murphy’s controversial Are We Rome? I know that Murphy’s thesis – that there are enough similarities between us and Rome in the fading days of the empire that we should take a hard look at ourselves – was inspired not a little by Bushian/Neocon overreach abroad when he wrote in the mid-aughties. His analysis was nuanced and his verdict equivocal.

I cannot but wonder how the book would come out today. Bush may well have been America’s Diocletian, but Donald Trump is looking increasingly like the Nero that only a decadent empire could raise to leadership.

The question that presses on me is this: is America more like Rome today than it was eleven years ago?

I fear the answer. But I will let you know more when I finish Murphy’s book.

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The Bull Moose Doctrine: A Plague on Interventionists and Isolationists Alike

The Republican Party and its leaders have all but forgotten the Weinberger Doctrine, its derived Powell Doctrine and the effort that took place under Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush to impose discipline on the American crusading instinct. The precepts of these doctrines were imperfect and in no way a substitute for the grand strategy the nation has lacked since the end of Cold War I. But they were a step in the right direction, a step informed by a desire to forge a principled tactical middle path between the isolationism that set the stage for World War II and the sort of GloboCop interventionism that has sucked us into our current state of imperial overreach.

The Weinberger-Powell Doctrine was already suffering from a decade of neglect when Colin Powell took office, and his decision to place his loyalty to George W. Bush over his loyalty to his principles vis-a-vis Iraq ultimately buried those principles and put the US into full-bore interventionalist mode.

The nation has never looked back.

Most Americans are uncomfortable isolationists. To have in our hands the means to ease human suffering and to willfully withhold it for material reasons strikes us as moral weakness.

Yet most Americans are similarly uncomfortable with writing endless checks for blood and treasure to impose our political and economic will on foreign peoples and to give succor to those who will only resent us for our often ham-handed efforts.

We can no longer afford to allow ourselves to be alternately driven by one or another of these emotions. It is past time for The Blob or whatever passes for its alternative to forge a non-partisan template that can guide a President – regardless of strategy or ideology – in the proper employment of the means of national power.

The creation of such a template is properly beyond the means of Congress and must predate the inauguration of a president. As such, the effort must begin now.

So let us begin.

Using the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine as a starting point, I have drafted the following set of rules that combine to form the nucleus of what I call the Bull Moose Doctrine. This needs polish, and some of the concepts herein require further definition (“constabulary power,” for example.) It is a start, however, and I welcome your input.

  1. The United States has the ability to exercise national power upon state and non-state actors by a range of means. These means include, but are not limited to, diplomatic, cultural, politico-ideological, economic, commercial, technological, legal, constabulary, cyber, kinetic, and nuclear.
  2. These means are substantial but they are also limited in both measure and capability, and therefore must at all times be employed with a view to economy.
  3. The proper exercise of that power is dependent upon the clear articulation by the Commander-in-Chief of what constitutes the national interests of the United States, one that reflects the perceptions of that interest of at least a majority if not a consensus of Congress and the American people.
  4. The means of national power should only be exercised in the defense of national interests, and the employment of those means should be proportional to the importance of the national interests threatened.
  5. At any rate, military power, whether constabulary, cyber, or kinetic, should only be employed when a vital national security interest is threatened.
  6. Military power should only be employed when there is a clear, definable, attainable, and finite objective.
  7. Military power should only be employed when the risks and costs of the exercise of that power have been fully and frankly analyzed, and the potential unintended consequences in the short-, medium- and long-term given full consideration.
  8. Military power should only be exercised when other non-violent means have been fully exhausted.
  9. Military power should only be exercised when there are plausible exit strategies following either mission completion or mission failure.
  10. Military power should only be exercised with the support of the American people.
  11. Military power should only be exercised with genuine and broad international support, in particular from our allies.
  12. When national power by any means is exercised, every resource and tool within those means should be used to achieve decisive results so as to avoid unnecessary escalation.
  13. When military power is exercised, every resource and tool should be used to assemble decisive force against the enemy, minimizing casualties and ending the conflict quickly by forcing the capitulation of the enemy.
  14. Following the exercise of military power, every resource and tool should be used to enable the rapid recovery of the American and foreign communities and individuals affected by the conflict.

Thoughts?

 

Soapbox: The Safe Space Issue

UC Berkeley ‘identity’ groups protest for safe spaces, block passage to white students
The College Fix
October 25, 2016

[Stepping onto soapbox:]

Attention students of the University of California, and, by extension, students of all public institutions of higher learning across this great state:

If you need a space free from debate, from intellectual challenge, and from viewpoints that you find objectionable, I am sorry, but you have come to the wrong place.

As a California taxpayer and a UC alumnus, I am more than happy to pay my taxes to ensure that you are safe from physical harm on campus, and will not tolerate violence against you from any source as long as you do none to others or their property. I will also not tolerate racism, threats of violence, or any form of coercive pressure upon you to conform to a point of view or ethos, whether that coercion is social, physical, or academic. You have every right to expect that there is room for you to state and defend your ideas.

But I will not pay one red cent either to protect you from ideas, opinions, and images you find objectionable, or from having your ideas intellectually manhandled, disproven, and perhaps even ridiculed. You are adults, ostensibly with the discernment and maturity to handle the intellectual challenges that are an integral part of the university experience.

Neither will I support you being sheltered from poor grades, providing they come not because of the opinions you hold, but because of your failure to defend them in accordance with the accepted standards of Socratic debate. Nor will I pay to protect you from poor grades if they are the result of your failure to support your argument to the academic standards that are the foundation of a liberal education.

That is not just my selfish opinion: it is stated differently, but that’s the fine print that comes when you sign your name to your enrollment forms.

An American university is not a four-year vocational school for entitled, sheltered, pampered members of the managerial class. It is a program to inculcate in you the intellectual rigor you require to take on positions of responsibility and leadership. That program is conducted via the time-honored means of adversity, challenge, debate, growth, and learning.

So if you lack the requisite discernment and maturity, if your own opinions and self-image are so fragile that you are unable to handle intellectual challenge, may I suggest, with love and respect, that maybe you are not yet ready for a university experience, and that perhaps you should pursue a different path until such time as you are ready?

So leave.

Or, better yet, get over it. Go back to class/your dorm/the library/the coffee house. Stand up. Shout your opinions. Make yourself count. Voice your anger. Fight injustice. Go to class. Learn from your professors and your adversaries how to make your voice not just heard but persuasive. And grow.

Because you may not have noticed it, but the world is not a safe place. In fact, it is getting more dangerous by the minute. The only way you will save it is by learning – and learning early – to live in a world filled with people who think, do, and express things that you find personally execrable. More important, you will need to be able to discern between someone who comes to those believes honestly, sincerely, and thoughtfully; and those who espouse their beliefs out of fear, greed, and/or ignorance.

Hail, California, and have a nice day.

[Stepping off of soapbox.]

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The Trump Era Dawns

On the global stage Trump’s populism and nationalism makes him very much a man of his times, with parallels to figures as diverse as Marine Le Pen, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and of course Vladimir Putin. But in the American context he is like nothing we have seen before — a shatterer of all norms and conventional assumptions, a man more likely to fail catastrophically than other presidents, more constitutionally dangerous than other presidents, but also more likely to carry us into a different political era, a post-neoliberal, post-end-of-history politics, than any other imaginable president.

Source: The Trump Era Dawns

We walk a very narrow bridge with this President.

This is not the time to give up, tune out, and go back to The Way We Lived Before. The Trump Era demands a new kind of American Citizenship, one that is constantly informed, regularly engaged, and frequently activist.

This president and the Congress are going to need to hear from us, and we’re going to need to be more visible, more thoughtful, and more persuasive than ever to get our points across.

Welcome to the Trump Era.

Now get busy.

Don’t Leave America

To everyone who is considering leaving America because of the election result:

Don’t.

We need you. This is a wounded, damaged country, but if you love it – if you have a shred of patriotism left in you, you owe it to yourself, your children, your loved ones, and this nation to stay and help the rest of us rebuild.

Stay. And let’s create an America for the 21st Century.

Freedom’s Silent Verse

“Lady Liberty” by Jorge Pintado

The point of America was to make a place for all people who need and love liberty, not just the people we like. To love America is to love all who seek its shelter and would guard her treasures.

Let us ever repeat the words of Emma Lazarus engraved on the foundation of the Statue of Liberty. But let us not hesitate to remind the tempest-tossed that the price of freedom is a commitment to defend the freedom of others – even those with whom you disagree.

The Moose and the Elephant: Leaving the GOP

Lean a little more to the right, maybe?

Those who have been reading this blog for some time will notice that we have, once again, undergone a facelift. This time it is for more that aesthetic reasons: it is meant to signal a change.

For a long time, this site and my political activities have been devoted to the fruitless effort to rescue the wagon that is the Republican Party from its accelerating slide down the steep slope to the right. After five years, I have come to terms with the fact that this is a hopeless quest. Long before Donald Trump reared his bilious physiognomy above the political parapet, it was clear that the party was in deep need of change, and that far too few Republicans either acknowledged this or had the faintest inkling of what that change might look like.

But the past few months, culminating with Trump’s nomination at the most shameful political gathering since the last Reichsparteitag in Nuremburg in 1938, have provided sufficient evidence that the GOP is incapable of meaningful, deep reform, even in the face of its most severe existential crisis in a century. The party’s lurch beyond conservatism points our republic toward a dark and terrifying future. We can either get off the wagon and do something, or we will by inaction consign the nation to the darkness.

And while I consider myself to be a conservative, I have found that the term has become so abused as to be almost meaningless, and that I have as little in common with the vast majority of conservative pundits and politicians as I do with those of the left.

Political conservatism to me is a dedication to two things: first, the principles that motivated the Founding Fathers as embodied in their writings and in the Charters of Freedom (The United States Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights); and second, the proposition that even the best system of governance is infinitely perfectible and thus dynamic. Conservatism should not throw itself athwart the road to change, but should embody ongoing reform informed by a wise balance of caution and progress.

Sadly, the most vocal proponents of conservatism seek to twist it into something far more regressive, robbing it of its balance in the name of dogmatic orthodoxy or more nefarious motives. When slavish devotion to free markets leads conservative thinkers like Thomas Sowell to inveigh against Teddy Roosevelt, the right no longer stands for reform but for a backslide into the cauldron of laissez-faire capitalism, robber barons, corporate monopolies, corruption, and vast income inequalities. The future promised by this sort of conservatism is not America: it is decline and dissolution. Christian conservatism would see America declare itself a Christian nation, and impose Christian values in the classroom, the bedroom, and the examination room. A theocracy dominated by plutocrats is the promise, enough nearly to rename the GOP the Banana Republican party.

Either we consign the GOP to the past, or we consign ourselves to the dystopia it promises.

In an effort to be a part of a better future, one informed by a conservatism that captures the promise of the 21st Century while holding true to the enlightened vision forged in the 18th, I am today leaving the Republican Party. I do so with a heavy heart and great reluctance. But to paraphrase my wife when she speaks of her own roots, I love the Republican Party, but the GOP that I love does not exist anymore.

But I also do so with a belief that such changes are good for the country, if for no other reason than they compel us to cast off the fetters of short-termism and special interests and enable us to engage in a more visionary and constructive conversation. This is what motivated Ronald Reagan in 1980, Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, Teddy Roosevelt in 1912, Abraham Lincoln in 1860, and the men and women who put everything on the line 240 years ago to craft a new nation.

 

I will share more about where the Bull Moose is headed in the coming weeks.