The 76th post from the Journal of American Greatness originally published in April, 2016.
As noted, our favorite part of Trump’s recent speech was his sensible call for “new people” to run American foreign policy. Here’s a simple test to identify new people suitable to serve in the national security bureaucracy in a post Clinton-Bush-Obama world—new people to entrust with putting the pieces back together after what Conrad Black has called “decades of shabby and incompetent government.”
Were you against the Iraq War, but for the Surge, and against Obama’s 2011 bug-out? That’s it. Anyone who checks all three boxesshould be on the short list for the top jobs.
Against the Iraq War: we’re not as hard over on this point as some would like us to be. We think there were defensible reasons to be for the war—in 2002-3. It was not an easy call to make at the time, despite what some others insist.
However, no later than the Spring of 2004, it should have been painfully obvious to everyone that the invasion was a mistake. Hence those who opposed it initially were right and those of us who supported it were wrong. Since, as Thucydides taught us so long ago, the supreme quality of the statesman is foresight (pronoia; πρόνοια), the judgement of those whose foresaw the calamity and urged against it should be preferred to those who did not foresee it, or who indeed denied it. This is just elementary common sense.
More controversial will be our position on the Surge. Most Iraq War opponents (and, we venture to speculate, many current Trump supporters) similarly opposed the Surge—some because they are reflexively anti-war, some out of a misplaced “consistency,” and others because they saw no compelling national interest in it.
The first two reasons hardly require refutation. As to the third, the reason to support the Surge was not out of any moral obligation to stabilize Iraq after having shattered it—Colin Powell’s so-called “Pottery Barn rule.” We do not dismiss such moral obligations out of hand. But rarely do moral considerations take ultimate precedence in issues of war and peace.
For the Surge: the purpose was, first and foremost, to defeat al-Qaida in Iraq, an avowed and dangerous enemy of the United States. As should be obvious by now, despite our confirmed opposition to the neocons, and whatever our sympathies with the alt-right on immigration, trade, and the foreign policy disasters of the last two decades, we do not share the view (admittedly not universal on the alt-right) that the U.S. has no interests in the Muslim world, that terrorism is an overblown neocon boogeyman, that if only we didn’t support Israel Muslims wouldn’t hate us, and so forth. In short, where and to the extent that the alt-right starts to sound identical to the anti-American left, we part company with them and stand with Trump.
The defeat of al-Qaida in Iraq was a serious boost to American prestige after the debacle of the Iraq occupation to that point, and a serious blow to al-Qaida and Islamist radicalism* in the region and worldwide. It stopped cold, for the time being, a movement that up to that point had been growing. It made attacks on American interests overseas and on the American homeland much less likely.
As to the withdrawal: It does not follow from the fact that it would have been better never to have been in Iraq in the first place, that the right policy was to get out as soon as possible, on whatever terms available. Having stabilized the country, it was in American interests to help it remain stable. A stable Iraq would have been a bulwark against terror and a continued American presence (not nearly the 170,000 troops at the peak of the surge, but 10-20,000) would have deterred enemies and acted as a rapid response force against other threats in region.
Note that we did not say “a democratic Iraq.” Here, though, we bump into a problem that anti-democratizers underestimate. The American people, or a sizeable portion thereof, do not like the United States to openly prop up non-democratic regimes. We suppose this arises from our own commitment to democracy and perhaps to our success with Germany and Japan after World War II. Whatever the reason, as we’ve seen especially since 1945, a big chunk of American public opinion does not like America to have non-democratic allies, and the more we are involved in another country’s affairs, the less they like it. Now, we are convinced there was no way—never any way—for the U.S. to democratize Iraq. The best we could have done is to have nudged Iraq in a less-bad direction, consistent with its own social structures, Islam, and domestic public opinion. Which would have likely resulted in a more or less authoritarian regime with pluralistic elements that reigned in the worst impulses of such regimes. That would have been fine with us—and should have been enough for any sane foreign policy establishment. However, it would also have required an element of hypocrisy: that is, a consistent over-stating of how democratic this new Iraq actually was and an over-selling of America’s effort to make it even more so. Adults can understand and accept this. We belabor this point because it is important that said “new people” understand it and are prepared to act accordingly if America ever finds itself in a similar circumstance. Which, we reiterate, only a stupid establishment would seek. But sometimes empire results from necessity rather than choice.
Against the bug-out: just as the success of the Surge in defeating al-Qaida in Iraq was a big boost for America and serious loss for our enemies, the bug-out was a huge blow to American prestige and a morale windfall for our enemies. It led, among other things, directly to the rise of ISIS and to al-Qaida’s successes in controlling territory throughout the Muslim world.
Why does this matter to us? It is, alas, necessary in these corrupt times to re-explain elementary things. 1) Because we still need Middle Eastern oil and as long as we do, we have a vital national interest in not allowing a hostile power to control the supply or the choke point through which it must be transported. Yeah, yeah, I know that Saudi Arabia is a quasi-hostile power, but at least these days it’s also one that is glutting the market rather than trying to starve us. As noted earlier, it’s doing so for hostile reasons, whichthere are ways to combat. And this is not the place to go into the Saudi role in 9/11 beyond saying that we are not complacent on this point. At any rate, clearly America has an interest in increasing our (and Canada’s) hydrocarbon production as much as possible. To the extent that we can accomplish that, perhaps our military role in the Middle East can be commensurately reduced.
But not eliminated, however much we may wish for that outcome. Which brings us to reason #2. A lot of Muslims still want to kill us. They want to blow up Manhattan and Washington again. And much else. We can change our policies to be less stupid—and we should; we must—but their hatred will not change in response, nor will their efforts slacken. Of all the stupidities of the alt-right, perhaps the worst (though, again, far from omnipresent) are their apologetics on behalf of Islamic militancy, which arise (certainly in part) from Jew-hatred. If only we ended our support of Israel, the terror threat would go away! We don’t doubt that for many radical Muslims, America’s support for Israel is indeed a factor in their hatred. But … so what? We could end that support tomorrow and some of that hatred might dissipate. But would all of it? Most of it? Would the most committed give up the fight? A cursory look at their rhetoric is sufficient to settle the issue. The question for us should be: Is the US-Israel alliance in America’s national interest? And, yes, that should include the related question: Does it cost us more than it gains us? But the assertion that They Hate Us Because Israel is a fantasy.
We note, almost as an aside, the glaring contradiction between this—the alt-right’s weakest argument—and what is undoubtedly its strongest. Mass Third World immigration has been a disaster for the West generally and for the U.S. specifically. Muslim immigration is the biggest disaster within that broader disaster—a Towering Inferno within the Poseidon Adventure. The alt-right is dead right about that. So it’s puzzling and frustrating to read some of those same voices write so insouciantly and admiringly about innocent Muslims lambs and how American-Israeli imperialism has caused all this justified blowback. Even if every negative thought they ever had about Israel and the Jews were correct, why does that necessarily translate to pro-Islamism? Is it simply enemy-of-my-enemy short-sightedness? The alt-right is quick and ruthless (and justified) in ridiculing “conservatives” who make silly concessions to the racialist left hoping they will be given credit for being “not racist!” Why do some make the same futile gestures toward Islam? Above all, how do they square their sensible view that mass Third World immigration undermines the West with their Islamophilia?
Yes, we’re aware that liberal Jews are guilty of a similar myopia from the opposite side. Walls for me but not for thee; immigration is essential for the U.S. but poison for Israel; etc. This position is, in its own way, just as dumb as the alt-right’s. Is Muslim immigration to the West really good for the Jews? It’s a measure of how dire circumstances are that even some of the most clearheaded dissenting voices, at least on the issues that they can see clearly, are utterly foolish on directly-related issues that they misperceive more spectacularly than Mr. Magoo. In our darker moments, we envision a vast arena, in which the Islamophiliac anti-Semites, the pro-Muslim immigration liberal Jews, and the Muslim radicals who want to slaughter both could all … interact. Would anyone learn anything? The Muslims—the fox in this henhouse—would know all they need to know going in.
Delusion seems to be the most prominent common thread running through 2016. So let’s cut the cord short of further bloodshed. Here’s one way to start. Appoint to positions of power new people who were against the Iraq invasion, for the Surge, and against the bug-out: the only sensible position on the sad, sorry arc of American involvement in Iraq. We would also add: people who were against the Libya intervention, against the Arab Spring (or at least honest about its baleful effects, even if there’s not much we could have done to stop it), and against the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power in Egypt. Anyone who was wrong on these issues not only has no place in a Trump Administration, but in any administration whatsoever. Though it appears that many of them will get plum jobs in a second Clinton Administration. One more reason to reject #NeverTrump.
* We don’t here wish to get into the weeds of the proper terminology by which to refer to America’s Islamic enemies. We’ve read all the arguments: “Islamist” imposes a Western ideological construct those called “Islamists” do not themselves adhere to, “radical Islam” implicitly presumes a moderate Islam which does not exist, and so on. Call them whatever you want. We make a fundamental distinction between those who want to kill us and those who don’t, or between those who work to kill us and those who don’t. We stand by our argument that, whatever the general proportion of each group in broader Muslim population, Islam and the West are incompatible, that it was foolish for the West to allow Muslim immigration (beyond, perhaps, a very small number of highly educated, skilled, secular people), and that Muslim immigration to the West should be halted forthwith.