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August 16, 2007

On Faith
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Thanks to Lorelei for alerting us to this timely article by Robert Kaplan. I skimmed it, but one graf, in particular, caught my eye:

Faith is about struggle, about having confidence precisely when the odds are the worst. Faith is the capacity to believe in what is simultaneously necessary but improbable. That kind of faith is receding in America among a social and economic class increasingly motivated by universal values: caring, for example, about the suffering of famine victims abroad as much as for hurricane victims at home. Universal values are a good in and of themselves, and they are not the opposite of faith. But they should never be confused with it. You may care to the point of tears about suffering humankind without having the will to actually fight (let alone inconvenience yourself) for those concerns. Thus, universal values may pose an existential challenge to national security when accompanied by a loss of faith in one’s own political values and projects.

What, then, is our faith? What do we believe in? Do we intend to retain a sense of mission in our dealings with the rest of the world, with our friends, and with our enemies? This is what worries me so much about the move away from a values-centric foreign policy toward an interests-centric one. Realism is, indeed, resurgent and progressives, in profound disillusion over Bush's "freedom agenda," are going along for the ride. This is perhaps the most tragic, long-term consequence of the Iraq war. The neo-cons have given the "missionary" aspects of U.S. foreign policy a bad name, and have tainted what was once - and what should still be - an animating force in the way we understand not only the world, but ourselves: that we, as Americans, have a moral interest and obligation to use our power and influence for good in the world, and that to stand by and accept the evil of autocracy as a "reality," is nothing less than an abdication of responsibility. The issue here is one I've discussed elsewhere:

The central question for progressives is whether we intend to be a country that relegates itself to traditional, interest-bound forms of diplomacy and ad-hoc international maneuvering or an interventionist state, with a set of strongly-held ideals and principles and a commitment to promoting them -- with care, but without apology.

Without a clear commitment to a clearly-defined set of founding ideals, we will fail to articulate a foreign policy vision to the world that is confident, consistent, and credible. And people will say, as they have for some time, that liberals have excellent policy prescriptions, but they lack the ability - or perhaps even the willingness - to tie these policies together as part of a coherent framework, one that is both inspired and inspiring.


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But hasn't every American imperialist adventure, from the Mexican war to the occupation of the Phillipines, to Vietnam, to Iraq been based on some sort of "humanitarian" justification, along with a promise to bring democracy to the people we're killing?

You only get to use this justification so many times before people get wise to what's going on.

And while you may have only the purest of motives for endorsing a "humanitarian intervention" in country X, recognize that others in our government, not quite as pure as you, are using your humanitarian concern to advance their agenda. And if your humanitarianism only serves to whitewash what is really just the self-interest of those in power, then don't you bear some responsibility for the consequences?

I hate this whole "values" notion. First, of course, I don't like people telling me what my values are.

More importantly, I don't think anyone should have to die in a war just because a foreign power is doing something at odds with our stated values. I'm not sure, for example, that we should send troops to Darfur. Darfur is dangerous. Some of our troops might die horribly. They signed up to defend the U.S. not Darfur. I know that I would want to go to Darfur to fight with people. So I'm not going to ask anyone else to.

Finally, as SteveB has pointed out -- how many times has the language of values been corrupted in American foreign policy? Certainly more often than not.

"Without a clear commitment to a clearly-defined set of founding ideals, we will fail to articulate a foreign policy vision to the world that is confident, consistent, and credible."

By that very high standard, no nation-state has ever had a "three-C's" foreign policy. Perhaps, you first need to define these founding ideals first, then the vision.

Kaplan has evolved over the years into thoroughly eloquent, reactionary, apocalyptic and chauvinistic lunatic, and sometime admirer of genocide. Like a lot of Jewish intellectuals of his generation, he has been so twisted and traumatized by the Israeli experience, so "mugged by reality" as they like to put it, so captivated by the primitive call of national identification, that he has lost his marbles and humanity. From his wretched hatchet job of State Department Arabists, to his hysterical ravings about the coming global "anarchy", to his pathetic worship of the "pagan ethos" to his grotesque admiration for the genocidal wars against the Native Americans, Kaplan is simply what fascism looks like in 2007.

The universalism that Kaplan damns with faint praise, and opposes to the glories of "faith", along with similar neoconservative thinkers, is precisely the "foreign policy vision" that appeals to so much of the rest of the world. While others dream of a drawing together of states and peoples, and a sublimation of nationalist impulses within a higher urge toward a global community, Kaplan and his ilk push in the other direction, and celebrate the love of the tribe and its gods. Their critique of "universalism" is all of a piece with their tirades against "relativism", "moral equivalence" and the other bugbears of the fanatical neoconservative dream world.

Kaplan and the other neos believe that national cults, religious and ethnic supremacism, ungrounded faith and tribal loyalty, the will to dominate and the ruthless martial glory-seeking are the natural condition of mankind, and that we should all just get with the fascist program and stop our sick and decadent whining about international law, peace, harmony, detente and the other illnesses of liberal modernity.

Seriously Shadi, don't you see any alternatives at all to a cold, niggardly realism and an "interventionist state" thrust ever forward into the world by a missionary zeal and totemic worship of the Founders and "founding values"? In the end they are both just two different kinds of extreme nationalism.

I saw the title of the main post here and immediately thought, " faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Just another in a long line of posts here about the capacity of Arab states to sustain democracy, I thought.

My mistake.

As Dan Kervick mentioned earlier Kaplan does have extremely right winged views and he really does not believe in American values. In his book Imperial Grunts, Kaplan does not want any civilian decision making whatsoever in foreign policy disputes rather he wants to leave it soley to the military. This is against over two hundred years of civilian control of the American military. The terrorist will have won the ideological ground if we adopt Kaplan's values.

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