The more I know, the less I know
The funny thing about my political writing is that it has been, from the beginning, very public. And it’s gotten better over time, which is good, and bloggier, too. You learn the tricks. The pacing. All that. But I’ve also found that I have gone through sea changes in terms of my politics–largely due to the constant writing, reading, and self-evaluation that this process entails, or should entail in any case.
As recently as early 2008 I was staunchly behind Israel in every respect–all my talking points came from an almost neoconservative perspective. I truly believed in the force of good America could provide through humanitarian intervention, and truly felt that getting out of Iraq (a war I have always opposed) would be a tragedy for the Iraqi people. I saw room for American troops in just about every hotbed of violence from Africa to the Middle East. Democracy, I believed, was a recipe for eventual global peace.
But I’ve had huge awakenings on all these fronts. For one, I’ve come to acecpt that simply “supporting” Israel is not enough. To truly support our ally, we need to be critical. I still can’t abide half the online attacks against Israel, the calls for the expulsion of the Jews, the comparisons with Nazi Germany, etc. But isn’t that really just a symptom of the internet? All the lunatics with a PC and a keyboard can spew whatever vitriol they choose, loud and clear. In the real world they have a much smaller soap box. It doesn’t reflect the larger debate with any clarity or honesty. It’s just remarkably easy to become isolated in our own micro-debate here online, and lose sight of the larger demographic. Essentially, it is only one tiny sliver of the real conversation. Anyone who thinks otherwise is suffering from blogging nihilism.
Regarding the ill-named War on Terror, I have moved from adamant dove, opposing both the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, to reluctant hawk, decrying anymore all-0ut wars while supporting humanitarian intervention, and pushing for a reasonable end to the conflict in Iraq and a continued presence in Afghanistan, and finally to a much more ideologically comfortable owl and foreign policy realist. Afghanistan is a pit we need to climb out of. Iraq is an inferno.
In my attempt to argue against a preemptive withdrawal from Iraq, I think I began to lose sight of the larger historical realities of that nation, and the region. Still, the whole “axis of evil” mentality never settled well with me, and as soon as I began to realize that much of what I perceived in the neoconservative ideology was only that–a perception, not reality–I began to back off my presuppositions and sit back, and listen carefully. When Bill Kristol turned out to be the driving ideological force behind the Palin pick, I was left with no alternative but to question the moral compass of the conservative movement at large. Was this verbally-challenged, brash, populist prima donna really what the GOP envisioned as the embodiment of leadership for an America embroiled in two wars and, as it is so often termed, the existential threat that is terrorism? Or were they merely looking for another puppet? And if so, why? Why a puppet? Had democracy-spreading become so vital that it was necessary to forsake our own for the greater good? Has national security dogmatism become so essential to our liberty that we must, as Bill O’Reilly stated recently, sacrifice our own values in order to achieve it?
National security is, of course, an essential function of any government, and so I am not a foreign policy Dove or pacifist, but rather have shifted my focus to America First, since it is only through that prism that we can honestly evaluate each of our possible moves. I have become an Owl, and I believe Owl is where I will remain.
I’m not so sure as Freddie deBoer or Daniel Larison that there is never a time for intervention. Maybe they are few and far between, and certainly taking a neo-realist approach to foreign policy–call it America First with caveats–especially in this age of turmoil, seems to be sensible, and not so much cold as practical and wise. There are necessary wars. That is the tragedy of politics, of history. There is a time for aiding our allies and the weak. We just have to be extremely cautious, and conservative, about when we make that choice. I have come to the point that I believe that choice should grounded in our own self-interest and not in an attempt to build nations or stave off a theoretical threat. The Iraqi threat, after all, was little more than a theory. Its imminence was grounded in wild speculation only.
I certainly no longer support democracy promotion, as I have seen its effects with startling clarity in Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan–realms unfit for democracy, lacking the basic soil for it to grow: the rule of law; a history of basic human rights and self-determination; the organic growth of political institutions sympathetic to democratic rule. America of the late 1700’s and Afghanistan of the present day are so politically disparate and historically unalike that expecting similar results is not only foolish, it is potentially disastrous to American interests, now and into the next generations. More than one Empire has burned its fingers in the mountains of Afghanistan.
If I were to go back in time, I might easily become embroiled in a debate with myself. Whether that shows that I’m fickle or open-minded or both isn’t clear to me. I admit my wrong-headedness when I am made aware of it. I stick my ground when I think I’m right. I just think the truth is hard to pin down. Economics, foreign affairs, diplomacy, monetary policy–all of this is so fraught with truth and consequence that this lone blogger can’t possibly understand it all fully.
Take, for instance, all the brilliant economists out there who disagree so fundamentally on this current recession (or depression, or tiny blip in the radar depeding on who happens to be talking). They’re all far more informed than I am on the subject. I can read two totally opposing essays on the bailout and come away from both shaking my head, thinking “these both make sense.” Am I to be driven to economic agnosticism? I have to admit, my empathy for McCain, when he said he knew nothing about economics, has grown exponentially. Does anybody know a thing about this wild science of impenetrable cause and effect? We need seers and fortune tellers to unwrap its riddle, not economists and politicians.
All of which leads me to wonder how people can become so partisan when so little in politics is coherent or certain? I know that maintaining a conservative disposition is a valuable quality, especially for idealists, or for fickle bloggers like myself. Tempering our passion with our intellect, and vice versa, can be essential in the proper utilization of wisdom and empathy in politics, or political writing for that matter. Beyond that, I want to know more. I want to question all these talking-points and haphazard ideological positions. I want constant revelation of my own intellectual fallibility. I want fewer answers. I want better questions. I want to dig through the dirt of it all.
After all, the more I know, the less I know.