Pfaff on the war (and Santorum)
William Pfaff is a long-time presence at Commonweal and contributor to the New York Review of Books. His latest piece in the NYRB complains that the present administration’s errors in the Mideast are only a heightened version of a more general trend since the early 1960s, one that an Obama or Clinton administration in 2009 would find difficult to reverse.
The intellectual and material commitments made during the past half-century of American military, bureaucratic, and intellectual investment in global interventionism will be hard to reverse. The Washington political class remains largely convinced that the United States supplies the essential structure of international security, and that a withdrawal of American forces from their expanding network of overseas military bases, or disengagement from present American interventions into the affairs of many dozens of countries, would destabilize the international system and produce unacceptable consequences for American security. Why this should be so is rarely explained.
What is the threat that America keeps at bay? Neither China nor Russia directly threatens Western security interests, at least in the opinion of most governments other than the one in Washington. Obviously all the major nations have energy and resource needs and interests that intersect and conflict, but there is little reason to think that these and other foreseeable problems are not negotiable. Warmongering speculation of the kind one sometimes hears when American conservatives discuss China or Russia— not to speak of Iran—is a product of world-hegemonic thinking, and a disservice to true American interests.
America’s so-called war against terrorism has not saved its allies from violence. The terrorist problem is generally seen in Europe as one of domestic social order and immigrant integration—a matter for political treatment and police precautions— related to a religious and political crisis inside contemporary Islamic culture that is unsusceptible to foreign remedy. Few leaders outside the United States, other than Tony Blair, consider the terrorist threat a global conspiracy of those “who hate freedom”—a puerile formulation—or think the existing militarized response to it a success. The positive results have been meager, and the negative consequences in relations with Muslim countries have been disastrous. The US approach has become perceived as a war against Islamic “nationalism”—a reaffirmation of cultural as well as political identity (and separatism)—which like most nationalisms has thrown up terrorist fighting organizations (as did another nationalism without a nation, Zionism, in its day)
For what I take to be a different view see the new program on “America’s Enemies” launched by the Ethics and Public Policy Center.