The American Dream

constitution_quill_penIt was Voltaire who said that when the government is wrong, the most dangerous thing of all is to be right. Nonetheless, many patriotic Americans did everything they could  to counter the radical ideology of those  that captured the White House in 2000.

Today that reign is discredited, the tragic results all too plain to see. The wreckage of their assault on reason is global, and the carnage, not limited to Iraq or New Orleans, lies strewn all around us: the shattered nations, economies and lives, the countless dead and wounded and the rule of law itself – that which Churchill called England’s greatest gift to civilization – shredded in all but name.

For those of us who lived in the U.S. through this time, it was heartbreaking to see the majesty and promise of the American Constitution desecrated by those posing as patriots sworn to its defense. Particularly when it is the rule of law that Constitution represents which is our best hope of defeating el qaeda.

Back in 2002, the neocons were riding high and planning the destruction of Iraq. That October, they published a clarion call in Foreign Affairs Magazine proclaiming a new era of unchallenged American supremacy, the final realization of Manifest Destiny and the virtues of American exceptionalism.

The following was my response on October 3, 2002. It rings as true today as ever before:

A Response

Mssrs. Brooks and Wohlforth err, and they err egregiously in at least two fundamental ways. While their assessment of U.S. economic and military power in relation to the rest of the world is essentially sound, they fail to take into account the fact that America didn’t get into this position through divine intervention, i.e. Manifest Destiny, and neither did it do so on its own.

America did not even win the Cold War on its own. Far from it, it did so in concert with the full participation and cooperation of other NATO governments and the active cooperation, if grudging, of those country’s citizens. While the authors denigrate that importance today, now that the U.S. stands astride the globe, the industrialized world had a part in this success, helped pay the expensive price for it, and expects a voice in the world order they helped create and today help maintain. Ultimately, even though America has more guns and bullets, it does not exist in a vacuum and ultimately cannot stand successful on its own.

With extraordinary hubris, they also make the case that the new American position is unassailable, “unique” in history. In my experience, whenever pundits declare something permanent and unique in our history, some unexpected event occurs to upset that particular apple cart. History teaches us that, regardless of the specific unanticipated causes and effects, it repeats itself.

Despite the authors’ limited ability to perceive some unexpected diminution of American power, I assure you that just as the Egyptian, and Babylonian and Mongol and Mayan and Roman and British Empires rose and fell, usually from causes of their own making, so, unfortunately, will our own. It’s called history, and no scholar, no matter how brilliant, can cause the Ozymandian suspension of its inexorable progress. So let’s not be too self-congratulatory just yet, particularly when our own world ‘dominion’ has barely existed for less than twenty years. A more intelligent assessment might be that world leadership today is our own to lose, an entirely different proposition, especially given current political trends in the nation’s capitol.

But fundamentally, and characteristically, what the authors miss, in their rush to declare the new American world order, is this — the power of American ideas. In truth, American power in the world has always been the power of its revolutionary idea that individual freedom and liberty arise from the very nature of being human. People don’t buy Big Macs or Levi’s jeans — they buy a piece of the American dream. Western governments didn’t align themselves with America because they had a vast military-industrial complex. They aligned themselves with a nation with shared humanist values that they could trust to lead in an enlightened way, albeit one strong enough to ensure the common defense.

If Americans, and worse yet, American scholars forget this, and now believe that this is America’s hour to lead the world unrestrained, to cast off the shackles of the Lilliputian nations in Europe and those like Japan and Canada that worry stupidly about land mines, and pollution and an international court to restrain genocidal dictators and the UN and global warming, and all of those other annoying little “people problems,” then their entire understanding of the roots of American power, which lies bedded in the ideals of individual human rights, is misguided. American power rests squarely on the concepts embedded within the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution, which in and of themselves have been as revolutionary a force on this earth as the concept of a single, unifying God.

The real question the authors should be asking is, what ideas are going to lead the world into the future? What is our compelling vision of a peaceful world for the next century that all people can understand and believe in as instinctively as the 20th century American dream? That’s an article I’ve yet to read, but eagerly await.

Today, on January 20, 2009, more than six years later, the entire world watched the inauguration of the author of that next chapter – Barack Obama.

As Churchill said, “This is not the end. Nor is it the beginning of the end. But it is the end of the beginning …”

Help is on the way!