The View From Olympus: The Origins of Our Distress

In an earlier column I referenced Thomas Friedman’s interview with President Obama, published in the August 9 New York Times. The interview is worth revisiting, because it yields important clues to the origins of our failures and distress.

Before I criticize the president, let me make two points. First, in the interview President Obama demonstrates a far more realistic view of the world than that of his childish predecessor, George W. Bush. Second, the errors in President Obama’s world view are shared by virtually the whole Washington Establishment. The most prominent and damaging disconnect from reality, hubris, is worse among Republicans, where howlers for endless war everywhere such as Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham are still taken seriously by some.

That said, the magnitude of the Establishment’s hubris shines through President Obama’s statements. Nowhere is it more clear than in his statements about Libya, where our intervention against Qaddafi destroyed the Libyan state and created another petri dish for Fourth Generation forces–exactly as I predicted at the time. Friedman quotes Obama saying,

I’ll give you an example of a lesson I had to learn that still has ramifications|to this day. And that is our participation in the coalition that overthrew Qaddafi in Libya. I absolutely believe that was the right thing to do (emphasis added) …when everybody is feeling good and holding up posters saying, “Thank you, America.” At that moment there has to be a much more aggressive effort to rebuild societies that didn’t have any civic traditions.

Friedman summarizes what was presumably more discussion of Libya by writing,

Intervening in Libya to prevent a massacre was the right thing to do, Obama argued, but doing it without sufficient follow-up on the ground to manage Libya’s transition to more democratic politics is probably his biggest foreign policy regret.

What on earth leads the Establishment to think America can go into a country with a radically different and largely dysfunctional culture, about which it knows virtually nothing, and “manage its transition to more democratic politics,” much less “rebuild societies that didn’t have any civic traditions?” Who do the Establishment think they are? Merlin? The Archangel Michael? The degree of hubris is astonishing. The United States, or any foreign power, has no more ability to do those things than we do of commanding the tide to recede.

More, what President Obama proclaims is a “lesson he had to learn” shows that the Establishment cannot learn. The obvious lesson from Libya is that if you overthrow a tyranny, what you get in most of the world is anarchy. But he does not draw that lesson, concluding instead that we must somehow do more to turn these flea-bitten fly-blown third-world hellholes into Switzerland. Here we see the rigid limits the Establishment has set to learning from experience. The lesson cannot be that its ideology of “democratic capitalism” is at odds with reality, despite its repeated failures. Anyone who dares draw that lesson immediately ceases to be a member of the Establishment. Instead, the ideology must be preached all the more stridently, and dissenters banished ever-farther from the seat of power.

The sin of hubris runs through much of the remainder of the interview. Speaking of the Sunnis in the Middle East, President Obama says, “Unless we can give them a formula that speaks to the aspirations of that population . . .” Who are we to think we can give the locals “formulas” to solve problems that go back more than a millenium? Of the Iraqis, he says, “We can help them and partner with them every step of the way . . .” After a decade of showing we don’t know down from up in Iraqi society, how are we supposed to “help them and partner with them” instead of just making everything worse, as we have already done in spades? Again and again, we see the same point proven: the Establishment cannot learn.

Two other sources of our distress shine through the president’s remarks, both, like hubris, common throughout the Establishment. Discussing ISIS, he told Friedman,

the question for us has to be not simply how we counteract them militarily but how we are going to speak to a Sunni majority in that area … that, right now, is detached from the global economy.

Besides the fact that the Pentagon hasn’t a clue how to deal with ISIS militarily, because all it knows how to do is drop bombs, the assumption shining through here is that the Sunni-Shiite civil war could be settled if only its participants were involved in the “global economy.” The Establishment cannot grasp that religion, race, and nationalism are far more powerful motivators than is economics. Globalism, with its hollowing out of the state, is in fact paving the way for more primal war, fought for age-old reasons by entities that are not states.

And in his discussion of the dangers of political maximalism, concerning which he is both prudent and correct: the president said, “And the more diverse the country is, the less it can afford to take maximalist positions.” That is true. The more diverse the country, the more difficult and dangerous its politics, the more likely it is to splinter in civil war. Yet President Obama, like all the Establishment, is a fervent believer in more “diversity” — which in the coded language of cultural Marxism means diversity of everything except thought. The President wants more immigration, more emphasis on cultural divisions already present within this country, more rubbing raw every difference of race, sex, and class. Why cannot he, and the rest of the Establishment, perceive that “diversity” is likely to be the undoing of America, that we need, if the country is to survive, what it used to have, one common people and culture?

The answer: again, is the willful blindness demanded by ideology. Of all the poisons unleashed by the French Revolution, ideology remains the most deadly.