Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Trouble with Quibbles

Daniel Larison has been relatively quiet lately, but today he posted about John Kasich's attack on Donald Trump's foreign policy.   He quoted a Foreign Policy article that quoted Kasich:
Kasich clearly blamed Trump for what he described as an increasing attitude of “let’s just take care of us, let’s just pull the shades down, let’s lock the doors and let’s not take care of the rest of the world, let’s just take care of ourselves.”
As Larison observed, this is an odd criticism.  But I want to quibble with some of Larison's discussion.  He wrote:
I assume most Republicans, like most Americans, aren’t interested in just “pulling the shades down” and ignoring the rest of the world, but many of them understandably and rightly object to policies that focus on “taking care” of other parts of the world at our expense and instead of looking after our own country.  
Trump — and his fans, from what I see — don’t really want to ignore the rest of the world. They’re just fine with killing Muslims and recovering our oil that they’ve hidden from us under their sand.   They fantasize that Obama has been a weak-kneed, lily-livered pacifist; those who are old enough to misremember, fantasize that “we” lost in Vietnam because our military’s hands were tied by the bureaucrats, and victory could have been had if Our Boys hadn’t been stabbed in the back by the hippies. They want more war, not less.

The rationales and justifications for wars are propaganda thrown out more or less randomly to see what people will accept.  Bush's invasion of Iraq, for example, was promoted with a variety of claims, from defending the American Homeland against imminent Iraqi aggression to liberating the Iraqi people from a vicious dictator.  Refuting these claims, while a valid project, missed the point.  Bush wanted war, and that was that; so did those who supported the invasion.  Obama's military adventures have been sold with similarly mixed rationales, combining paternalism with bloodlust.  The propaganda can always be adjusted to what will sell, and pseudo-altruistic appeals sit cozily next to the most depraved jingoism.  Coherence simply isn't a criterion.

[P.S.  It happens that I'm presently reading H. Bruce Franklin's M.I.A., or, Mythmaking in Action (2nd edn., Rutgers, 1993), which mentions another way to drum up support for war when other pretexts have failed.  As domestic opposition to the US invasion of Vietnam grew in the late Sixties, the Nixon Administration turned the focus to American POWs held by the Vietnamese, and demanded that all American prisoners be released before the US would negotiate a peace.  (This was largely unprecedented in the conduct of war, and of course ignored the much larger numbers of Vietnamese POWs being held by the American client government in Saigon.)   Franklin quotes the journalist Jonathan Schell, who wrote that "Following the President's lead, people began to speak as though the North Vietnamese had kidnapped four hundred Americans and the United States had gone to war to retrieve them" (Franklin, 60).  Which was not more fanciful than the previous official US rationale for the war, but no less so either.]

My other quibble is that Trump and his fans don’t really want to look after “our own country.” They want the government to look after whites only, and not even all of them. The rich, with whom Trump fans wishfully identify (I think this is one reason why he’s popular), are a pitiful helpless minority being picked on by the blacks, the Jews, the Meskins, the gays. It’s been pointed out before that right-wing Americans would rather do without health care, Social Security, veterans’ benefits, and other social programs than let any non-white (and even many poor whites) benefit from them. They not only would, they have, and have worked hard to find ways to give benefits to whites while ensuring that non-whites don't get them.

Larison concludes:
If Kasich holds Trump responsible for public disillusionment with an activist foreign policy, he’s wrong again. Trump is taking advantage of that attitude, but he is not the cause of it. It is fifteen years of desultory foreign warfare combined with domestic neglect and dysfunction that have made so many people receptive to any messenger–no matter how flawed–who even hints at not squandering American lives and wealth in unnecessary conflicts that provide the U.S. with nothing but additional headaches and costs.
I think "desultory foreign warfare" has been going on for a lot longer than fifteen years; it's been a bipartisan American enterprise for a century and more.  (What's the point of having this superb military if we can't use it?)  As for "domestic neglect and dysfunction," chipping away at programs that benefit the majority of the US population is also an ongoing bipartisan enterprise, which is sold outside of elite circles with denunciations of the undeserving moochers of all colors.  The only people who deserve government assistance are that endangered species, the rich.