Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"America's ruling class lost the 'War on Terror'."

That's the opening sentence of a long and very interesting article at the Claremont Institute. It's a logical, rational analysis that amounts to a searing condemnation of the 'political class' running our government - on both sides of the aisle. Here's a series of short excerpts.

America's ruling class lost the "War on Terror." During the decade that began on September 11, 2001, the U.S. government's combat operations have resulted in some 6,000 Americans killed and 30,000 crippled, caused hundreds of thousands of foreign casualties, and spent — depending on various estimates of direct and indirect costs — somewhere between 2 and 3 trillion dollars. But nothing our rulers did post-9/11 eliminated the threat from terrorists or made the world significantly less dangerous. Rather, ever-bigger government imposed unprecedented restrictions on the American people and became the arbiter of prosperity for its cronies, as well as the manager of permanent austerity for the rest. Although in 2001 many referred to the United States as "the world's only superpower," ten years later the near-universal perception of America is that of a nation declining, perhaps irreversibly. This decade convinced a majority of Americans that the future would be worse than the past and that there is nothing to be done about it. This is the "new normal." How did this happen?

September 11's planners could hardly have imagined that their attacks might seriously undermine what Americans had built over two centuries, what millions of immigrants from the world over had come to join and maintain. In fact, our decline happened because the War on Terror — albeit microscopic in size and destructiveness as wars go — forced upon us, as wars do, the most important questions that any society ever faces: Who are we, and who are our enemies? What kind of peace do we want? What does it take to get it? Are we able and willing to do what it takes to secure our preferred way of life, to deserve living the way we prefer? Our bipartisan ruling class's dysfunctional responses to such questions inflicted the deepest wounds.

. . .

America's current ruling class, the people who lost the War on Terror, monopolizes the upper reaches of American public life, the ranks of those who make foreign and domestic policy, including the leadership of the Republican and Democratic parties. It is more or less homogeneous socially and intellectually. In foreign affairs, the change from the Bush to the Obama Administrations was barely noticeable. In domestic matters, the differences are more quantitative than qualitative. Dissent from the ruling class is rife among the American people, but occurs mostly on the sidelines of our politics. If there is to be a reversal of the ongoing defeats, both foreign and domestic, that have discredited contemporary America's bipartisan mainstream, heretofore marginal people will have to generate it, applying ideas and practices recalled from America's successful past.

. . .

The War on Terror has moved American politics and institutions further away from mutual persuasion toward antagonistic assertions of prerogative. Wars for hazy ends prosecuted without clear declaration of purpose did not begin in 2001. But never before were enemies designated by intelligence agencies, which declined to make public the bases for their judgments. Between 2001 and 2007 a bitter debate between the CIA and the Defense Department (backed by Vice President Dick Cheney's office) bubbled to the surface over Iraq's role in 9/11, and terrorism in general. The debate, which really was about whether and on whom we should make war, was settled intramurally by bureaucrats who used sympathetic journalists to discredit their opponents while foreclosing rebuttal. "Security of classified information" in wartime is the official reason why our ruling class thus cut Congress (and the American people) out of decisions on this and other vital matters. By the same logic, the CIA announced in 2010 that the president and his advisers had concluded that one Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen in Yemen, was so involved in terrorism that American forces would hunt him down and kill him. Of what capital crime was he accused? By whom? Who convicted and sentenced him? The experts. On the basis of what evidence? Sorry, can't say. Classified. Wartime necessity, you know.

Decision-making by "experts" rather than by people and procedures responsible to the American people has always been American progressives' prescription for American life. During the past decade, the pretense that America was at war has given this practice a major boost. For example, official and semi-official panels of experts from government, business, and the academy generated "studies" on the energy and health-care sectors of the economy. Based on these, the government promulgated regulations and presented Congress with demands that it approve massive legislation to "stop global warming" and to "establish universal medical care." These government-business-academic experts, i.e. this ruling class, presented their plans as demands because, they shouted, "the debate is over," and opponents are not qualified to oppose. Regardless of these demands' merits, such claims to authority are based strictly on the proponents' credentials. My point, however, is that these credentials are based largely on the government endowing these proponents with positions and money. As President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned in his farewell address, such expertise is a circular function of government power.

. . .

The common denominator of our ruling class's domestic and international strategy in the post-9/11 decade is its determination to double its bet on already failed policies. This self-referential mindset is the root cause of America's decade of loss. The New York rescue worker's shout to President Bush to do "whatever it takes" summed up the American people's priorities: rid the world of the kind of people who trammel our way of life so that we can get back to living it. Congress' authorization for the use of force echoed that mandate. But as the ruling class set about "doing something" in response to the attacks, it started from the premise that the American people are ignorant and hardly worth listening to. Hence there was no need to depart from the ideas and policies with which the Establishment had identified itself. Nor was there any discussion in the mainstream media about whether those ways might have violated principles of statecraft to which it might now be necessary to repair.

. . .

Ten years after 9/11, America is not at peace, is poorer, less civil, and less hopeful. But the experts are in charge as never before.

In the American political marketplace of 2012, the American ruling class's stock is at a historic low. President Obama and nearly all who vie to replace him try to disassociate themselves from the decisions of the past decade. So do most of our elites. But since none explains and accuses his own errors, it is by no means clear whether any have learned from their mistakes. More important is what the rest of the country may or may not have learned. For us to understand how these mostly intelligent people could have made errors so big for so long requires understanding the principles they violated, and the moral as well as the intellectual dimensions of their errors. More difficult yet, both intellectually and morally, is the essential task of explaining the hard choices that will be required to deal with the troubles bequeathed us by this decade of defeat.

There's much more at the link. Engrossing and highly recommended reading, particularly in the light of next year's elections. Have the American people learned from the mistakes outlined in this article, so that they'll throw out as many as possible of the 'political class', and replace them with more rational, reasonable, common-sense Representatives and Senators? One can only dare to hope so . . . because if they haven't, who else will undo the damage of the past decade?



Unknown said...

The ruling class won, hands down.

We're broke and we're divided to an extent that cripples us, but the oil is still flowing westward, and trillions of borrowed dollars are in the hands of war profiteers. While we struggle to pay their debts, they will continue to pacify us with those crumbs to which they allow us to feel "entitled," but we are no longer welcome at the capitalists' table.

C. S. P. Schofield said...

9/11 presented then President George Bush with a wide selection of options, all of them bad. While I am not in his inner councils, I believe that he chose to fight a limited war by limited means for limited ends in the hopes of persuading the world in general, and heads of Islamic States in particular, that annoying the United States was a Very Bad Idea. This is what used to be called Gunboat Diplomacy. It is amoral and messy, but on the other hand it usually works.

Unfortunately the Democrat/Liberal wing of the Ruling Class was for more interested in nit-picking the Bush Presidency to death, in revenge for his having the temerity to win the election, than in presenting a united front, and so the message was muddied and much of the hoped for effect was lost.

The War of Islamic Barbarism has not been going on for ten years. It has been going on for more like forty years. It will cease only when the squirrel food that drives it has been chased back into the mountains so far that they have to pipe in daylight, and even then the History of Islam suggests that that will only work until the next time the civilized countries of the world forget to react with enough severity when the bandits that Islam seems to produce in jab lots get too big for their britches.

What the Peace Before All and Bush is Hitler idiots have achieved by blunting the effectiveness of Bush's Object Lessons to the Middle East is to ensure that the United States will, sometime soon, become a Military Imperial Power. There will, eventually, come another, even larger, terror attack on the U.S., and we will finally really loose our collective temper....

Aside; I know there are morons who think we already have. I maintain that this cannot reasonably be said to be true while Mecca and Medina do not glow in the dark.

... When that happens Hell is going to go for a walk with the sleeves rolled up, and when the dust clears the United States is going to have occupied such parts of the Middle East that are not flat sheets of glass. If France has pulled her typical "You can't use our airfields" attitude, we will have occupied such French territory as we felt the need for, and protests will be met with silent contempt at best. At home, anti-war tantrums will result in being slung into jail, and demands to see lawyers answered with the statement "Go right ahead; He's in the nest cell."

The United States will then remain in the Middle East for the next two and a half centuries, or until we are throw out by a bigger bully, whichever comes first. We may well spread over much of Africa and/or Asia, and how much of Europe we seize will depend largely on how much of Europe annoys us.

I don't consider ANY of this good. I don''t want to see any of it, though I am increasingly convinced that I will. My only, sad, consolation is that the worst effects on life IN the United States probably won't be felt down on my level of society until I'm dead.

trailbee said...

To C.S.P. Schofield: Many thanks for a great comment.

MikeinAppalachia said...

"In foreign affairs, the change from the Bush to the Obama Administrations was barely noticeable."
I kind of lost interest after that.
Very insightful coment above by CSP.