And To Dust You Shall Return

Here’s a sincere question for my conservative Christian friends: as we lined up to vote for George W. Bush in 2000, would any of us have believed that in a short 15 years, the favorite candidate of the “Christian right” would be a philandering casino tycoon and Clinton donor with four bankruptcies, two divorces and God only knows how many affairs under his belt; an outspoken defender of partial birth abortion, gun control and the abuse of eminent domain who became famous by objectifying women and successful by paying off corrupt politicians (and is shameless enough to boast openly about it); a man whose insincerity is as plain as the hair on his head and whose assumed “Christianity,” though of the shallowest possible type, still comes across as an implausible piece of bad acting? Be honest – would any of us have believed that story for an instant?

Church, the political “Christian right” was at its best a defective clone, conceived in the laboratory of human invention – a heartless deformity on life support. It has been dead for some time and by now it stinketh. Now that the Trump campaign has done us all the favor of a very public, very nasty autopsy on national television, can we just bury it and get back to the proclamation of the Word, with an extra helping of humility? It’s past time, brothers and sisters.

Simple, Right?

In the ongoing tragedy that is Ferguson, MO, one of the most tragic aspects of all is the hardening contempt each side of the conflict feels and expresses for the other. As a white conservative I am ashamed of the grossly simplified generalizations that characterize the discussion on the right. But more than anything, I am grieved by the widening gulf, on this and many other issues, between neighbors, fellow citizens and, most especially, fellow believers.

After the Grand Jury decision not to indict Wilson was announced last night, the usually thoughtful Matt Walsh opined this morning, “Brown instigated this encounter, tried to hurt the officer, and paid for it with his life. That’s it. That’s all. This whole outrage was based on rumor and false testimony. You either accept the facts, or you brand yourself a liar and a fraud.”

No, Matt, that’s not it and that’s not all.

In France, 1789, the explosion of rage, murder and destruction we call the French Revolution ignited a fifty year period of chaos and death. The world looked on in disbelief as the desperation-fueled heroism of those who stormed the Bastille gave way to Robespierre and the reign of terror. Observers all over the west shook their heads as centuries’ worth of cultural, religious and political effort was dismantled and destroyed, and waxed philosophical in their armchairs over the sheer stupidity of the French public. If any people could be accused of destroying their own city – even beyond that, of destroying themselves – the French peasantry of the late eighteenth century were guilty.

Edmund Burke criticized the French Revolution in a series of pamphlets, speeches, etc. In his first pamphlet he accused the French people of rebelling “against a mild and lawful monarch, with more fury, outrage, and insult, than any people has been known to rise against the most illegal usurper, or the most sanguinary tyrant.”

This accusation drew the ire of the American author Thomas Paine, who replied, “It was not against Louis the XVIth, but against the despotic principles of the government, that the nation revolted. These principles had not their origin in him, but in the original establishment, many centuries back: and they were become too deeply rooted to be removed, and the Augean stables of parasites and plunderers too abominably filthy to be cleansed by anything short of a complete and universal Revolution. … Perhaps no man bred up in the style of an absolute king, ever possessed a heart so little disposed to the exercise of that species of power as the present King of France. But the principles of the Government itself still remained the same. The Monarch and the Monarchy were distinct and separate things; and it was against the established despotism of the latter, and not against the person or principles of the former, that the revolt commenced, and the Revolution has been carried.”

Paine went on to lash out at Burke for his aristocratic sympathies and his refusal to even attempt to see the revolution from the perspective of the oppressed people of France. “Not one glance of compassion,” he wrote, “not one commiserating reflection that I can find throughout his book, has he bestowed on those who lingered out the most wretched of lives, a life without hope in the most miserable of prisons. … He pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird.”

Ouch.

Burke and Paine both made legitimate points, and both were blinded by their own prejudices. In his sympathy for the horrific suffering of the French people, Paine glossed over many of the terrible crimes and excesses they committed. But his critique of Burke on this point was devastatingly accurate. Burke saw the sins of the French Revolution in a political and historical vacuum. He saw them as a grave threat to the relatively orderly subordination of English society and to the aristocratic system. He failed to acknowledge the crushing weight of centuries of accumulated oppression and how that history shaped the French people, and he failed to distinguish between the many aspects of the revolution and the motivations of its various groups and factions.

Those who look with contempt on the whole mass of protesters in Ferguson – without distinction, without even an attempt to perceive their widely different motivations – are guilty of just such an error. The killing of Michael Brown, whether justified or not, occurred in a decades-old context of unchecked law enforcement brutality and deep-seated hostility between people of color in Ferguson and their police. Back in the late ’90s journalists described the area as a racial volcano destined to erupt. In 2012 Ferguson police officers mistakenly arrested an innocent black man and beat him savagely in a holding cell, only to discover their mistake afterwards. Rather than risk the consequences of a public acknowledgement they charged him with destruction of government property for bleeding on their uniforms. While a judge dismissed those charges, none of the officers involved were punished. In this context it would be shocking if the black community were to calmly accept a grand jury decision not to indict. They have no faith in the system, and for good reason.

Then, too, there is a fundamental distrust of this particular process that is equally understandable. No one expected the grand jury to indict Wilson. Jonathan Blanks, writing for Rare today, observed that “The law enforcement apparatus in and around St. Louis County treated the citizenry with open contempt. In his press conference yesterday, St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch sounded more like a defense attorney for Wilson rather than a prosecutor who failed to get an indictment.”

Legal blogger and defense attorney Scott Greenfield was more specific. “All the evidence,” he writes, “is a phrase that applies to a trial. A trial is a procedure that happens in an open courtroom, where adversaries zealously present their case and challenge the other side’s case. It is transparent because we can watch it unfold, develop, happen before our eyes. We hear the questions and answers, the objections and rulings. We hear the request to admit evidence and the voir dire and challenge to its admission. We hear the opening arguments and summations. … Whether Darren Wilson would have been convicted after trial remains unclear; perhaps the case against him for the killing of Michael Brown wouldn’t have survived scrutiny. Perhaps the structural benefits given law enforcement to kill without fear would have allowed him to circumvent conviction. Perhaps he wasn’t guilty. We will never know. … The merit of the grand jury presentation relies entirely on our acceptance of Bob McCulloch’s office desiring an indictment against Darren Wilson. Just as a prosecutor can indict any damn person he pleases, he can similarly make sure a person is not indicted.” (Read the whole post – it’s worth your time.)

When was the last time you saw a police officer indicted, let alone convicted, for excessive use of force, without a viral video either leaked or recorded by a bystander? Even in those cases where a concerned citizen is in the right place at the right time to make such a recording, how often are officers actually prosecuted? Answer those questions honestly, and then tell me why, in that context, any of us should be expected to accept the grand jury’s finding as fact?

Wilson may have been completely justified. But to dismiss those who distrust the process as liars and frauds is either tragically simple-minded or disingenuous.

What Happened To Iraq?

Over the past two months, as Iraq has disintegrated in the face of ISIL, one particular interpretation of events has been consistently pushed forward by neoconservatives and Bush apologists: Iraq is in crisis today because America pulled its troops out too soon. Excuses are, of course, all that can be expected from the neocons at this point, since they have long since proven themselves impervious to the instructive benefits of hindsight. More concerning, though, is the readiness of otherwise thinking, intelligent people to buy into such a fantastical narrative. Twice in the last week I’ve been confronted with the argument that if only the US had taken the same time and effort in Iraq that we did in Japan after WWII, we might have a similarly friendly, democratic ally in the Middle East today. (Of course, the underlying goal of such claims is nearly always to shift the blame for the current state of affairs in Iraq away from the neocons and toward Obama.)

My initial reaction to this suggestion was disbelief, followed, however, by a determination to give it full consideration and compose a thoughtful response. I confess that my impatience with the whole idea has increased with the amount of time I’ve had to consider it. The total dissimilarity between Iraq today and postwar Japan is so obvious that it seems unreasonable to devote space to proving it. Be that as it may, such an effort is clearly needed. Following are four reasons why the postwar Japan model does not apply to Iraq after Saddam Hussein.

1 – There was no reason to anticipate a civil war in Japan, held together by two thousand years’ worth of cultural, religious and political ties; there was every reason to expect one in an Iraq held together by little more than Saddam Hussein.

Japan in 1945 had been a unified nation more or less for two millenia. It was a commercial society built on an ancient feudal structure. Culturally and politically, it’s hard to imagine a more cohesive national identity. While Shintoism and Buddhism have had their share of conflict, religious animosity was not a significant force shaping Japanese society in the 1940s. The Mikado was widely viewed as a deity and could trace his ancestry back through a nearly unbroken line of emperors all the way to Yamato herself, 300 years before Christ.

In contrast, Iraq in 2003 was a relatively new, arguably artificial nation cobbled together by Great Britain in 1920 from three distinct provinces of the Ottoman Empire (Mosul, Baghdad and Basra), with a piece of Kurdistan thrown in at the insistence of exiled Syrian king turned British puppet, Faisal I. Its multi-ethnic population was deeply divided along ethnic and religious lines. Fourteen hundred years of tension between Sunni and Shia Islam cut across Arab, Kurdish, Turkish and Assyrian ethnic groups. Most if not all of these groups included armed militias. Political stability was a consequence of complete domination of government power by the Sunni Arab ruling class.

2: The Japanese people had many reasons to trust the US;  the Iraqi people had as many reasons not to.

The United States in 1945 was at its zenith as a world power. We had, deservedly or not, a worldwide reputation for plain dealing and fair play that had not yet been squandered by reckless adventurism and failed interventions. The Japanese had no longstanding reasons to hate America. While an indigenous insurgency was of course a possibility, it was not a likely scenario.

By 2003, on the other hand, our conduct over the past sixty-odd years in the Middle East had been marked by lies, injustice, backstabbing diplomacy, broken promises – in short, every thing but plain dealing and fair play. Iraqi Shia and Kurds both had vivid memories of being encouraged by the US to take up arms against the Hussein regime, only to be brutally crushed when America failed to deliver the expected assistance. Saddam’s own regime knew first hand how treacherous we could be, having secretly received chemical weapon components (and critical intelligence help with targeting those weapons) from the US during the Iran-Iraq war, and more recently, having invaded Kuwait with an implied American promise of neutrality only to have that promise broken spectacularly in 1991. In short, no one in Iraq had any reason to trust America or any illusions that the occupation was meant to serve the interests or improve the lives of the Iraqi people. An insurgency against American occupation may not have been inevitable, but it was nearly so.

3: In 1945 the US imposed a military government on a soundly defeated aggressor; in 2003 the US was the aggressor.

The most glaring difference between occupied Japan and occupied Iraq is in the circumstances leading to the occupation. Japan had preemptively attacked the US in pursuit of an expansionist agenda that aimed to bring the entire western Pacific under Japanese control or influence. Their aggression failed; instead of knocking America back on its heels while Japan consolidated its gains, the war became a fight for survival of the Japanese state. By the war’s end in 1945, Japan had been thoroughly defeated and the expansionist wing of Japanese politics just as thoroughly discredited. Under such circumstances the Japanese people feared the worst from the occupation; instead they were treated remarkably well.

In 2003, however, it was America who launched a preemptive war against a country that had neither the ability nor the motivation to threaten it. The Iraqi government and military, entirely unable to face the US in conventional warfare, collapsed in weeks, but the Iraqi people, most of whom had merely observed the invasion rather than resisted it, were undefeated. Their primary allegiances were tribal and religious, not to the Hussein regime; they were not about to transfer those allegiances to the US.

4: Bremer was no MacArthur.

Does that really even need to be said?

Douglas MacArthur was a brilliant general and strategist with years of experience in the Far East; more importantly, he was a conscientious leader who took his responsibilities as such seriously. He was an avid student of Japanese culture; he went out of his way to show respect for,  and sensitivity to, their customs; he used his vast power to give the Japanese people a taste of just, efficient government; he carefully discriminated between those responsible for the war and the average Japanese. He won the respect – some would say love – of the Japanese people by his conduct and policies, not by some magical force of personality.

Now consider L. Paul Bremer – a career fearmonger masquerading as a terrorism expert. Prior to his appointment as Interim Dictator of Iraq he was Chairman and CEO of Marsh Crisis Services, a risk assessment firm – which is to say, his professional expertise was in frightening other corporations. While real terrorism experts like Michael Scheuer repeatedly warned the Bush administration of the likely consequences of Bremer’s (and Bush’s) policies, Bremer used his powerful position to immortalize his own incompetence and ignorance. He disregarded years of American propaganda aimed at convincing Iraqi soldiers to abandon Saddam. Within weeks he had created all the conditions for a Sunni insurgency in Iraq through a series of incredibly stupid executive orders. That insurgency was the incubator in which Abu Bakr al Baghdadi and his private army, AQI/ISIL, were formed and developed. The current “Islamic State” traces its origins directly to Bremer’s first three months in office. While a civil war and an anti-American backlash were likely consequences of the invasion and occupation anyway, Bremer did everything imaginable to guarantee both.

Does it still seem reasonable, in light of the above, to blame the absence of American forces since 2011 for Iraq’s current plight? Add to all this theorizing the fact that insurgent violence and terrorism during the occupation was at its worst from 2004-06, with >100,000 coalition troops in the country – before the much hyped “surge” had taken place and before the 2011 withdrawal date had been set by the Bush administration. If the insurgency could not be contained with that level of military presence, on what basis can it be claimed that an extended troop presence would have helped? Add to that the equally important fact that even the puppet government we established under Maliki refused to allow any American troops to remain, so that if we had kept combat forces there they would likely have been dealing with a Shia threat perhaps equal to the Sunni insurgency.

There is simply no way one can argue from the facts that it was the withdrawal of American forces that paved the way for ISIL. On the contrary, it was the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the subsequent occupation of Iraq and the policies pursued by the Bush administration and the occupying authorities which led to the ongoing tragedy that is Iraq today.

Principled Opposition Or Game Of Thrones?

For those of you who still hold to the myth that there is some meaningful distinction between a “conservative” or right-wing foreign policy and a “liberal” or leftist one, here’s something to think about:

In 2002, a Republican-controlled US government joined a Labour-controlled UK government to launch an unprovoked attack on Iraq, justifying the war with flimsy, perhaps even fabricated evidence of WMDs. They did so in the face of significant push-back from the Democratic and Tory oppositions.

Eleven years later, a Democratic-controlled US government and a Tory-controlled UK government seek to launch an unprovoked attack on Syria, justifying the war with similarly hasty claims. They appear ready to move forward in the face of significant push-back from the Republican and Labour oppositions.

I’d like to repeat a proposition I’ve made before, in spite of the likelihood that it will tick some of you off: the only bedrock principle guiding the foreign policy positions of most American (and many British) politicians is job security/advancement. They don’t give a rat’s whisker for the lives of American soldiers or innocent civilians, except to the extent that their constituents are likely to blame them. They don’t care whether an “intervention” is moral, constitutional, proportional or affordable. They know that war always results in the accrual and consolidation of power in the hands of the executive, and thus they support war when their guy is in and oppose it when the other guy is in. They make decisions that will affect the lives and livelihoods of untold numbers of their fellow creatures based on a despicable and mercenary calculus: who will get the credit, and who will get the blame?

Time For A Declaration Of Interference?

Someone I know and love recently shared a poster featuring Leutze’s majestic painting of Washington crossing the Delaware River on Christmas Eve, 1776. The caption read “AMERICA,” followed by the words, “We will kill you in your sleep on Christmas.” My initial reaction to this sickening boast was similar to the first time I heard Toby Keith’s hit single, Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue. It was a combination of disgust, sadness and grudging acknowledgement that the sentiment does indeed speak for much of America.

That last got me thinking. Maybe “a boot up …” really is the American way now. Maybe what I call Americanism is too 19th century. Maybe we need to articulate and embrace a new set of foundational principles, sort of like Romney’s “bedrock principles” – only those were attitudes. Anyway, since we have so carelessly trashed our founding principles as they appear in our Declaration of Independence, maybe we should trash the Declaration itself and replace it with a new and updated document, one that more accurately reflects our position in the world and our modern approach to international relations. I’ve tried to draw up such a document below. With a little editing by legal and PC experts, it should be something any modern patriot could proudly carry in their pocket.

When, in the course of human events, it becomes advantageous for one people to overstep the political boundaries which have separated them from another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, that supreme and arrogant station to which their economic and military prowess entitles them, a pretence of respect for the well-being of mankind requires them to set forth the consequences everyone else may expect from their ascension.

We hold these claims to be above legitimate debate: that America is exceptional; that we are endowed by the fact of our super-awesome existence with certain international obligations; that among these are global hegemony, full-spectrum dominance, and the responsibility to speak and act for freedom-loving people everywhere (whether they like it or not); that to fulfill these obligations, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of Uncle Sam; that, whenever any government becomes inconvenient for, or ill-disposed toward, America, it is our right, it is our duty, to overthrow such government, and to institute a new government; granting its powers to such persons, and organizing it in such form, as to US shall seem most likely to ensure our continued dominance. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that a nation in the enjoyment of peace ought not to engage in war for light and transient reasons; and all experience has shown that empires are more likely to fall prey to their own corruption, arrogance, and sense of invincibility, than to the dangers and bugbears by which they justify their continued expansion. But when a long train of abuses and interventions, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to enrich a few at the expense of the entire world, without provoking any career-ending electoral displeasure or unmanageable foreign crises, it is our habit to take such complacency for authority, and to embark on new adventures for our further enrichment. Such has been the long-standing experience of these states, and such is now the political climate which invites us to double down on our interventionist policies. The unique awesomeness of these United States is so significant that the lessons of history and prior human experience are insufficient to deter us from bossing you around at gunpoint. In this spirit of hubris, let warnings be presented to an increasingly skeptical world.

We may demand that your laws conform to our constantly changing standards, as the ultimate measure of what is good.

We may offer your leaders immense financial incentives to place the interests of the few above your interests and those of your nations.

We may overthrow your national governments when we see fit, by force or subterfuge, at our option.

We may neglect for a long time, after such overthrow, to allow new governments to be formed; the legislative powers meanwhile being left in the hands of ruthless and incompetent bureaucrats, and your national resources exposed to all the corporate interest groups and speculators that follow in our wake.

We may endeavor to make your leaders dependent on our will alone for the tenure of their offices.

We may invent countless new conventions, commissions, agencies, administrations and NGOs, and send swarms of bureaucrats to harrass your people and live at your expense.

We may keep among you, in time of peace (if you are that lucky), standing armies, bribing your leaders with foreign aid packages to ensure their consent.

We may keep our military independent of, and superior to, your civil institutions.

We may combine with others to subject you to the jurisdiction of the U.N. Security Council, or whatever jurisdiction we may invent at the time, giving our assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among you;

For protecting them, by secrecy, complicated regulations, and vicious prosecution of whistleblowers, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on your people;

For cutting off your trade with any or all parts of the world;

For imposing regulations and restrictions on you without your consent;

For depriving your people, in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury;

For transporting you overseas to be tortured for intelligence, or to rot away in prison without trial for alleged offences;

For abolishing long recognized individual freedoms in other nations;

For taking away your national sovereignty, appropriating your most valuable resources, and altering fundamentally the order of your societies;

For disbanding your civil institutions, and assuming the responsibility to redesign them for you according to our wishes.

If you refuse to cooperate in our benevolent makeover of your nations, we will plunder your lands, blockade your coasts, bomb your towns, and destroy the lives of your people.

We will hire large armies of private contractors to assist in the work of subjugation, which will be conducted with a reckless disregard for innocent human life scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy of a civilized nation.

We will incite domestic insurrections among you, and when our own people become weary of the costs of war, we will rely on our immense technological advantage to continue the fight with bombs, missiles and drones, whose known rule of warfare is an indiscriminate destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these operations we will pay lip service to diplomacy, democracy and self-determination in the most flattering of terms. Our repeated assurances should not be taken seriously. A nation whose policies are thus marked by such reckless ambition and brutality is best obeyed without question or complaint.

Not that we would be averse to achieving our goals through “soft power” when possible. We will print, from time to time, large sums of money to assist in making our uninvited meddling more palatable. We will remind foreign dictators of the invaluable assistance our military and information sectors can provide. We will appeal to their native lust for power and wealth, and cajole them by our common interests to connive at these usurpations. But if they prove deaf to the arguments of self-interest and influence, we must acquiesce in the necessity which requires our forceful intervention, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, targets in war, in peace, puppets.

We therefore, the representatives of these United States of America, in Washington, D.C. assembled, appealing to the inexhaustible credulity and imperturbable ambivalence of our constituents for the peaceable nature of our intentions, do, in the name and by the authority of the good people of this nation, arrogantly publish and declare, that we are, and of right ought to be, the leaders of the free world; and that as such, we have full powers to levy war, conclude peace, impose treaties, obstruct commerce, multiply agencies, commissions, laws and regulations, and to do all other things which previous empires have in general done. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on our immunity from the laws of unintended consequences, we mutually pledge to each other your lives, your fortunes, and our sacred honor lol!

I expect all my patriotic, interventionist friends to be overjoyed at the prospect of a new founding document, one that encapsulates the new and improved relationship between America and the rest of the world, and can form the basis for our future prosperity as the successor to all the previous empires that most Americans have never heard of.

Was The 2012 Election Lost Or Stolen?

The following is an edited version of my reply to a pile of emails I’ve received with allegations that the 2012 election was stolen. Most of them focused on a legal injunction, stemming from past efforts to intimidate legitimate voters, that prohibits the RNC from engaging in voter fraud prevention activities in certain precincts with high percentages of minority voters. I had pointed out that “the RNC is not the GOP, and there is nothing preventing state parties, national campaigns (Romney’s included) or other organizations from addressing voter fraud in those precincts where the RNC’s past behavior has earned these restrictions.” The friend who forwarded these emails hopes to build support for a grand jury investigation that he believes could end with the entire popular vote results in several states being discarded, sending the election to the House of Representatives. While we all know who would come out ahead in such a preposterous scenario, there simply isn’t a whistle-blower’s chance in Quantico that this could ever happen. Besides, I’m not convinced that what little voter fraud there was had any impact on the outcome, and, as readers of this blog know, I seriously question whether Romney would have been any better, on balance, than Obama. As I told my friend,

“If we (as in the Republican party) want to understand what went wrong in this election cycle we’d better start by looking in the mirror. I don’t believe this election was stolen, at least not by votes being cast illegally. There seems to have been some of that but not nearly enough to change the results. Obama won because he went out there and made an impassioned argument for wealth redistribution and the nanny state, and a large portion of the electorate bought it. There’s We the People for you. That We did so is frightening. But what was the alternative?

“Let’s face it, the GOP leadership hasn’t backed a presidential candidate who was willing to make the case for economic or individual freedom for a very long time. If we don’t like the direction of the country we need to see to it that the next election offers We the People a genuine choice. That needs to start with a long-overdue shakeup within the GOP, not with throwing out We the People’s votes because they reflect ignorance, greed and immorality.”

His response was that while Romney left a lot to be desired, he believed in an America that was good for business, would never have let four Americans be killed in Benghazi and was vastly better than Obama. (Talk about blind faith; the last Republican president let three thousand Americans be killed right here at home.) A third party to the exchange asked me to post my response here. So for whatever it’s worth, here it is:

“Bottom line – I worry that this focus on election rigging is a distraction from the real problem, which is that team A and team B do not represent different directions for the country. Your comment that Romney believed in an America that is good for business is about as specific as his campaign ever was. The Benghazi furor is just smoke and mirrors. We have no idea what really happened, but all the military brass publicly denies ever being told to stand down, and contrary to popular right-wing static, no flag officers were relieved of duty. Look it up anywhere you like; Carter Ham is still AFRICOM commander and is scheduled to retire next spring.

“And even if someone was told to stand down, that could well have been a tactical decision that saved many more lives in the long run. Washington himself had to “stand down” on more than one occasion and allow part of his army to be lost rather than risk a bigger disaster. Any blame associated with Benghazi belongs to the irresponsible CIA, as well as the fools who embroiled us in the Libyan civil war to begin with, including not only Obama and his henchmen but nearly the entire Republican establishment, including Romney. And Romney wanted us to do the same in Syria.

“You couldn’t fit a business card between Romney and Obama on foreign policy. Neither of them had a credible plan to balance the budget or pay down the debt. Both believed or claimed to believe that government can create jobs. Both promised to protect entitlement programs that are unsustainable. Both supported government-run healthcare and government-mandated health insurance. Both were interventionists and supported trashing the Bill of Rights because of the terrorist threat created by decades of interventionist policies. Both supported government control of the internet. Both were in bed with agribusiness and opposed to freeing small farmers from the current suffocating regulatory burdens. Both supported the trend toward a police state and used national security as a magic excuse for unlimited executive power. Both believed that Israel should be able to force America into a war with Iran. Both supported the extra-judicial assassination of American citizens. Both held that naked body-scans and strip searches are a necessary part of keeping us safe.

“Yes, Romney was (at least rhetorically) better than Obama on abortion and religious freedom. I voted for him because of that difference. But many Americans don’t agree with you and I there. Fact is, we couldn’t have picked a worse candidate. And now we are suffering the consequences.

“For me, this election was lost 9 months ago. I just don’t see the life-or-death struggle between Romney’s and Obama’s respective visions for the future of America. There is precious little that sets them apart, and that little wasn’t enough to sufficiently inspire conservative voters.

“You asked if we will have another election. Why not? They seem to work out well for the statists and still allow the people to feel like they are in control. I don’t see why the establishment wouldn’t want to keep the game up as long as possible. Even the Soviets had elections, and our two party system is vastly superior to their single party affair. Bill Clinton’s mentor and Georgetown law professor Carroll Quigley wrote thirty years ago in Tragedy And Hope that it was essential for powerful nations to have two political parties with opposing rhetoric but similar underlying policies, so that the voters could “throw the bad guys out” in any given election without causing “instability.”

“I am certainly not a fatalist, and you are right about the need for prayer. Please forgive my inability to see how a Romney presidency would save our country, or even give us another chance. Americans need to change before anything else, and prayer is indeed the first step in that change.”

Facts or Propaganda?

As the final debate between Obamney approaches, I am bracing for what will likely be the undoing of the warm feelings I have been dutifully nuturing toward our candidate. Governor Romney’s blissful ignorance of America’s place in the world, constitutionally and in reality, remains the biggest obstacle to this conservative’s support. And his efforts to reassure voters by promising to defer to his military advisers are anything but comforting. The only thing the founders feared more than an executive with unchecked war-making powers was an autonomous military. James Madison must be digging out of his grave by now.

Not only does Romney fail to understand both the mess that is the American empire and the relevant constitutional law, he doesn’t even seem to have a coherent position of his own. In his much hyped VMI speech two weeks ago, Romney identified the “bedrock principles” of the Romney doctrine: “America must have confidence in our cause, clarity in our purpose and resolve in our might.” But as Gene Healy points out in an excellent piece in the Washington Examiner, “…those are attitudes, not principles. And if jut-jawed self-assurance that we know what we’re doing in the Middle East was the key to victory, we’d have a little more to show from the last 11 years of war. Hope is not a strategy, but hubris isn’t either.”

Worse than the over-confident and under-informed arrogance, however, is the deliberate deception and propaganda constantly peddled by both campaigns and the war lobbyists they work for. Nonsense about Muslims hating us because we’re free, idolization of Syrian “freedom fighters” with no acknowledgement of their terrorist connections, and fearmongering that borders on psychosis with regard to Iran are all examples of the schizophrenic foreign policy jumble that both candidates embrace. And the voting public seems tragically complacent about the utter lack of meaningful distinctions between Team A and Team B.

Several days ago I was reading a Foreign Policy article about the radicalization of rural Pakistani youth, and specifically the techniques employed by terrorist groups in recruiting teenage boys for suicide attacks. I was stunned by the sickening methods used to convince these uneducated and ignorant boys to kill and die. Without repeating the claims made in the article, I will only say that one cannot help seeing even a suicide attacker in a different light after the author’s description of their indoctrination.

As my wife and I were discussing the article, my oldest son arrived home from school. He greeted me with, “Hi dad, Mrs. – says Iranians are dangerous people, is that true?”

Oh boy, I thought, here we go. “Why does Mrs. – say so?” I inquired.

“She says they are building a nuclear bomb to launch at us.”

“And why does she think they would want to launch a nuclear bomb at us?” I persisted.

“Because they don’t like that we’re over there defending our oil.”

Now, in fairness to Mrs. -, who I genuinely like and admire, I’m reasonably certain that she wasn’t quoted verbatim. It is entirely possible that my son’s impression of her comments differed substantially from her intent. Be that as it may, the timing of his question, coming as it did while the deceptive propaganda of Islamic jihadists was fresh in my mind, was an uncomfortable, but inescapable, reminder that both sides are equally guilty of using rank propaganda and deception to motivate and gain the support of the masses.

The problems with such ridiculous claims (which, regardless of whether my son’s impression was accurate, are widely believed by rank-and-file conservative voters) ought to be obvious. First of all, to describe “Iranians” (or any other ethnic group) in such sweeping terms demonstrates a pitifully two-dimensional view of the world, not to say of human nature. Secondly, our own intelligence agencies have been unanimous in their opinion that Iran is not, at present, building a nuclear weapon. Nor are they enriching uranium to the level required for such a weapon. Thirdly, if Iran did succeed in building a nuclear weapon, they are clearly unable to deploy it via ballistic missiles that would threaten the US. Fourthly, if Iran ever did develop intercontinental nuclear capabilities, what motive could they possibly have for a first strike? And lastly, while it is undoubtedly the height of insolence for Muslims in general and Iranians in particular to live on top of our oil, the evidence does not favor our appetite for oil as a pat explanation for Iranian animosity toward the US.

But its been a long time since evidence was last allowed to get in the way of the military-industrial complex. I expect Romney to differ from the President tonight only in the violence of his rhetoric. I would love to see him advocate a more humble and constitutional foreign policy, one that would present voters with a real choice to deal with the national debt, stop alienating allies and manufacturing enemies, and put James Madison back to bed. He has changed his position on most other issues, so perhaps there is reason to hope.

But, alas, hope is not a strategy.