Part 20 of the "Post-Constitutional Election" series is here.
The insularity of Eliteworld is such that when Evan Thomas (Phillips Academy, Harvard) argues in a New York Times op-ed, "Why We Need Foreign Policy Elites," he assumes that his Exhibits A & B -- (A) "opening China" (B) arms control treaties (detente) with the USSR -- will all but clinch his un-democratic case for the necessity of turning over foreign affairs to a cadre of Ivy-trained policy advisors.
That's bad enough.
What comes next, though, goes beyond liberal platitudes about what might constitute unassailable policy successes.
Of course, the “best and the brightest” of the 1960s administrations — academics like Walt Rostow and Mr. Kissinger, corporate titans like Robert S. McNamara — were far from perfect, to put it kindly. They bear the blame for Vietnam and the 58,000 American soldiers who died there, not to mention the millions of Vietnamese.
But they also strengthened a world order balanced precariously on the edge of nuclear war. They expanded trade, deepened alliances and underwrote billions in foreign aid. None of this was cheap, but they understood — as Mr. Trump seems not to — that the global stability bought with such efforts is worth far more.
I have read this more than once, and hear the chilling echo every time: "You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs."
The line, of course, is the turn of phrase made infamous by Walter Duranty, the New York Times' Pulitzer-Prize-winning Ukraine Terror Famine apologist. In this way, Duranty, a Cambridge man, himself, explained away the forced-famine Stalin engineered in the early 1930s to destroy some six, seven million people, perhaps more. (The collusion of Moscow-based correspondents in suppressing famine news is discussed in American Betrayal.) Yes, the circumstances Evan Thomas has under consideration are different, but it's hard not to see a certain similarity in outlook.
In his defense of elites as foreign policy-makers, Thomas weighs "the blame" for the loss of 58,000 U.S. soldiers and millions of Vietnamese against the supposed achievement of international trade, alliances, and billions (of US tax dollars) spent in foreign aid. On balance, he finds that the resulting "world order" and "global stability" are "worth far more" than the price so many others paid for them.
Is this not perfectly gruesome? So, too, is the symmetry. Just as you can't make Soviet communism without starving millions, apparently, Harvard grads can't make a "world order" without laying waste to millions, either -- but, despite whatever Donald Trump says, they should keep at it because "global stability" is "worth far more."
Even without pointing out the outlandishness of seeing death and defeat in Vietnam as a boon to "stability" of any kind -- quite the opposite in the eyes of Che Guevara, who called on Marxists to "create two, three, many Vietnams" -- such a pitch for elites is going to fall flat with anyone outside the club.
Indeed, if ever there were an argument against "elites" controlling foreign policy, Thomas's mindset surely is it: his unmitigated certainty, his apparent disconnection from human losses (so long ago, after all...), and, at base, that devotion to "world order" as something worth seemingly anything; not only life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for those who pay the utlimate price, but also their democratic say-so in the course of their own human events.
Still, we are fortunate even to be having this discussion.
As with every other key issue in 2016, this conversation -- who should control foreign policy? -- emerges only as a consequence of the populist candidacy of Donald Trump. In his recent foreign policy address, Trump made it clear he would he see all relations with the nations of the world through the prism of "America First" -- a shocker in our age of unquestioned globalism. He stipulated he would also be seeking advice from outside the circle of elites Thomas is writing in defense of -- "rather than surrounding myself with those who have perfect resumes but very little to brag about except responsibility for a long history of failed policies and continued losses at war."
A new day dawns, almost. I hope Trump continues to widen the scope of the debate about foreign policy, and make it more central to Americans generally. How amazing that this is something former U.N. Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick called for more than 25 years ago in the National Interest (whose parent foundation hosted Trump's recent address). Kirkpatrick even addressed the dangers of leaving foreign policy and the foreign policy debate in the hands of the "experts."
In her 1990 essay, "A Normal Country in a Normal Time," Kirkpatrick reminds us first and foremost that when when it comes to U.S. foreign policy, "our purposes in the world are merely human, not transcendental" and that when it comes to the Constitution, that purpose is to "provide for the common defense."
There is no mystical American "mission" or purposes to be "found" independently of the U.S. Constitution and government. There is no inherent or historical "imperative" for the U.S. government to seek to achieve any other goal -- however great -- except as it is mandated by the Constitution and adopted by the people through elected officials.
With undimmed relevance, Kirkpatrick continues:
Except in the case of urgent, unanticipated events of great importance, the U.S. government cannot legitimately devote taxpayer monies to any cause not authorized by democratically elected officials -- not to the establishment of democracies around the world, nor the elimination of war, hunger and chaos, nor an orderly global trading system ... except as these issues are discussed and endorsed by majorities of voters and adopted by their elected representatives.
How long has it been since such issues, in the main, have been discussed and endorsed by anyone but foreign policy elites?
This becomes a matter of great urgency in a time, as Kirkpatrick had already observed, when American civilians are "sucked into foreign affairs in new way." Among other things, Kirkpatrick had Islamic terrorism in mind; she makes reference to the 1985 Palestinian terrorist capture of the Achille Lauro.
It has become more important than ever that the experts who conduct foreign policy on our behalf be subject to the control of the people. We should reject utterly any claim that foreign policy is the special province of special people -- beyond the control of those who must pay its consequences.
In no way is this, as Evan Thomas might like to think of it, "campaign bluster."
Like many other aspects of social policy, foreign affairs requires expert knowledge from those who frame issues and options and implement policies. But that is no reason to exempt it from democratic controls.
Only elected officials continuously reminded of their immediate dependence on the people, can insure that government does not impose inappropriate, excessive or unbearable demands on the polity. Elected officials must therefore accept responsibility for foreign policy and we the people should hold them responsible for their conduct. This means that discussion of the broad issues of foreign policy should have an important place in any election campaign. ...
Should -- but they never do. The superficial or non-treatment of foreign policy -- even war-making -- in election campaigns has continued to be a problem.
If they are to maintain their grip, however, elites are unlikely to want to conduct hustings-level discussions of foreign policy. They will continue to prefer to do their work in private -- in board rooms, think tank sanctums, membership-only clubs -- which is just fine with elite-ends-justifies-elite-means Thomas.
But there are dangers to this practice, as Kirkpatrick explained so long ago: "Foreign policy elites often have different views than those of popular majorities."
Maintaining popular control of foreign policy is especially important because foreign-policy elites often have different views than those of popular majorities. In the long years of World War II and the Cold War, the United States developed a foreign-policy elite based in the bureacracy, academic institutions, and heavily associated with non-profit institutions.
Even more dangerous is the case, for example, of the greatly influential think tank, the Institute of Pacific Relations, which would set a pro-Communist US policy toward China in the 1940s, where such elites were also intermingled with ideological Communists and/or Soviet agents.
Members of this foreign policy elite grew accustomed to thinking of the United States as having boundless resources and purposes which transcended the preferences of voters and apparent American interests -- expansive, expensive, global purposes -- and eventually developed a disinterested globalist attitude which became identified with the liberal position in foreign policy.
It is this globalist attitude -- "disinterested" when it comes to the specifically American interest -- that for decades, generations, has been consensus among foreign policy elites, and thus central to U.S. foreign policy disasters.
This is what Trump's "America First" program, still nascent, potentially blows to smithereens.
His enemies tar it as "isolationism." Even back in 1990, Kirkpatrick addressed this charge, writing:
In American discussions of foreign policy, "internationalism" is often identified with this "disinterested globalism," and opposition to it is thought of as "isolationism." ...
As for isolationism, most Americans know it is not a viable alternative in the contemporary world.
The isolationism v. internationalism debate is in reality the debate among the various types of internationalism: that which aims frankly to serve the national interest, as conventionally conceived (to protect its territory, wealth, and access to necessary goods; to defend its nationals); that which aims to preserve and defend democracy; and a brand of "disinterested globalism" which looks at the world and asks what needs to be done -- with little explicit concern for the national interest.
Trump's foreign policy instincts -- America First -- fall within Kirkparick's first category: a foreign policy that aims to serve the national interest.
Evan Thomas' elites -- from the Left to the neoconservative/Bushite Right -- divide themselves between the latter two categories, which, over the years, have come to overlap each other as "defending democracy" became a disastrous matter of nation-building in the Islamic world.
Now these divergent foreign policy visions come before the people. Does anyone think voters won't reject the elites and their anti-democratic machinations, given the chance?