September 13, 2013

The Realpolitik Error, Our Modern Bane

James Fallows, whom I've read since I was something like 16 yrs. old it seems (and that is a long time ago), follows an immigrant reader into an interesting mistake  in yet another of too many bits in The Atlantic.  (Does anyone still read David Brooks for interest alone?  Even the best, hardest working columnist-for-life just wears on us when they don't go to the well deeply enough.)

Fallow's reader writes:

He [Putin in his NyTimes Op Ed] is making his case, a case that the world will not understand as Americans understand it. He has protected his interest in Syria under the banner of advancing an international interest. He has established, further, a precedent. That the United States does answer to the council, that it cannot act unilaterally and that our nation can be made to suffer a geopolitical consequence. If you were a country in the Middle East, whose protection would you want right now?

I brought up Khrushchev not incidentally. I currently view our recent impasse as very similar to the Vienna Summit. Americans are quick to hand-wave the foreign apparat, but slow to realize what just happened. We got duped into having a fight we didn't want to have. We wanted limits on Assad's power, and we now have significant limits of our own by way of this precedent.

This is all fine and clever and quite wrong.  Fallows follows by implication this classic realpolitik error, so commonplace in modern times.

The idea that America must be free to act preemptively, without much constraint, and that such actions, like drone strikes, make us safer.

In reality, such actions degrade our security in a clear and definite way.

When we kill people who haven't directly attacked nor are directly attacking us or our contracted allies, everyone senses that we are in the wrong.

Putin, as a Russian controller, manipulator, whatever, is quite beside this point.

By becoming an Evil Empire, we are ensuring not only our eventual fall, but fallout, the very best case of which is losing our freedoms to a security/police state.  The worse and more likely fallout is suffering retribution that kills not a few dozen or a few hundred, but 2 or 3, even 4  magnitudes higher in body count.  Eventually.

In short, the common delusion that we can make ourselves safer by killing punitively or preemptively.

That someone wiser said "He that lives by the sword shall die by the sword" should not only give us pause or make us add in another layer of checks and balances -- it should lead to deeper introspection, or something.  Anything.  Anything but this realpolitik.

In reality, billions of people know when a state is in the wrong, and like water building behind an obstruction, the opposition to the wrong grows.  Everything seems fine to the self-fooling until the sudden and inevitable result.

This will come, unless we recant.

And yes, a religious term is the most appropriate.

Because such a belief in killing as the first or 2nd solution, endlessly supported in our media, our movies, books, language -- it is a mythos, or a religion.  But not a good one.

This does seem a mythos.  So we do have a battle of religions more or less.

Since this battle is in our hearts and minds, we could change in a day, and that change unfurl over a few years, like Gorbachev's Glasnost.  A harmful Wall would fall.

And that could save a lot of American lives.  After all, it is never too late for us to change.

We can renounce unprovoked attacks and killing, we can apologize, we can reform, and we can begin to listen more to the better angels of our nature, and less to the impartially, putatively objective realpolitik of the law-of-the-jungle crowd.

Not sure the law of the jungle isn't best?

Consider: Which nation is safer right now, in the big sense -- the U.S. or China?

Like the U.S., China has an initial level of safety (if it acts neutrally) that arises from its sheer size and weight.  To the extent, extensive, that China has not taken on so many fights of the world, China is by far the safer.

The time to fight a Nazi Germany or an Al Qaeda, as always, as in all of time, is as it begins to attack.

We do always need to wisely prepare, we need to watch and be ready.

We should never preempt.

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