January 5, 2007
Breaking the Hold of Hegemonist DoctrineBy J.R. Dunn
Hegemonism is the doctrine holding that every American action on the international stage should be examined under suspicion of evil intent. And what does it foresee occurring in Iraq - and the Middle East at large - after the United States pulls out?
This is no trivial question. Hegemonist doctrine is a major factor in the rush toward abandonment of American responsibilities in the Persian Gulf. The hegemonist worldview is today dominant in American culture. With the effective collapse of the conservative consensus over the past half-decade, there is nothing to stand against it. It is the controlling ideology in the media, in the entertainment world, in the schools, and in the Democratic Party. If asked to bet on the fate of American Middle East policy in the near future, the safe move would be to put money on general withdrawal before the 2008 election. The only thing opposing this outcome is the boldness and determination of George W. Bush himself - not a good situation in a democracy.
So how does hegemonism portray the near future?
This is not a speculative question either. The current situation is a carbon copy of that facing the U.S. in the spring of 1975, when this country ran out on our Southeast Asian allies in general, and South Vietnam in particular. In mid-April 1975 (I believe the date was the 15th, but I'm not absolutely certain) Sydney Schanberg, the New York Times' Cambodia correspondent, published an op-ed giving a seasoned reporter's view as to what would happen in the region now that the U.S. was out. Simply put, a blanket of peace not witnessed since Eden would descend across Southeast Asia. With the U.S. gone, all hostilities and violence would cease. The locals, peaceful folk all, would pick up the threads of their lives and, unmolested by arrogant Yankees, would create a society that would act as a shining example to the world at large, Americans in particular.
This is hegemonist doctrine in almost chemically pure form. The U.S. as a demon among nations, violence and depravity the sole results of its policies. The only such actor on the world stage, with all other nations serving as victims, with no course open to them beyond reacting to American provocations. With the U.S. removed from the equation, the world will then immediately right itself and roll on with not a single problem, conundrum, or challenge - at least not that any American need pay attention to. This was the doctrine as it stood in 1975, and if Nancy Pelosi's recent remark that, "If we leave Iraq, then the insurgents will leave Iraq, the terrorists will leave Iraq," is any indication, it has not changed in a single particular in the thirty years since. (Further exploration of the connections between Iraq and the Vietnam epoch is well detailed in this recent piece by Noel Sheppard.)
So much for the hegemonist vision. As for the real world... Even as Schanberg's words appeared, the Khmer Rouge, in the service of a vision we will never be able to grasp, were emptying out the Cambodian capitol of Phnom Penh. What followed was one of the worst massacres of the 20th century, exceeded in sheer inhumanity only by the Holocaust and the Ukrainian famine. Within three years, something on the order of one to three million people ("over one million" as Schanberg's paper helpfully puts it) had been murdered. The Khmer Rouge were enemies of technology, and most of those who didn't starve were beaten to death with bamboo staves. When the last victims in an area were dispatched and all that was left were the cadres, they turned on each other, far past the point where they were capable of understanding anything else. It was atrocity carried to its ultimate degree, an event with the stench of damnation about it. The world has hurried on with scarcely a glance back. (To my knowledge, Schanberg has never repudiated his statement of April 1975. This too is typical of hegemonist doctrine, which is in many ways a postmodern construct: if you don't acknowledge your errors, then they never happened.)
The Vietnamese ordeal was not as deadly. It was also slower in unfolding. Several years passed before the appearance of the Boat People, common Vietnamese who had grown so desperate as to entrust themselves to makeshift rafts and boats on the South China Sea in an effort to get anywhere - Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia - beyond the reach of the Party. We have no idea how many fled, and how many died on the high seas of thirst, starvation, in storms, slaughtered by pirates, drowned when their rickety craft disintegrated around them. The UN, and the world at large, ignored them, in the same fashion as we see today concerning Darfur. Since they were fleeing communism, the Boat People were not legitimate victims, in the same sense that the Christians of Sudan deserve nothing in the way of sympathy either.
And that was only the beginning. The latter part of the 1970s developed into a global Walpurgisnacht in which low-lying fruit of the international system were knocked off by Soviet-funded Marxists one after the other. Ethiopia, Nicaragua, the twin Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique (and very nearly the mother country itself, with incalculable consequences for Europe, but for the actions of Ramalho Eanes, one of the unsung heroes of the Cold War), Grenada, Afghanistan - it was the most successful decade for the communists since the late 1940s. And with their fall, these small states were plunged into chaos, starvation, and endless warfare. As with the Boat People, the final toll is unknown. As with the Boat People, the world showed no concern whatsoever.
This record in and itself makes it abundantly clear that the hegemonist doctrine is fantasy, and widespread as it has become, an extraordinarily dangerous fantasy. The U.S. is not, and has never been, the snake in an international Eden. Quite the contrary: when the United States retreats, the tyrants, bandits, and ideologues are unleashed. The rule of blood returns, and genocide and horror walk the streets and highways of this civilization.
The record in recent years serves only to underline this fact. In Yugoslavia, a situation that a relatively small European expeditionary force, consisting at most of a few divisions, could have sorted out in a matter of months, was allowed to fester for the larger part of a decade. Thousands died in repeated offensives, sieges, ethnic-cleansing campaigns, and outright massacres until the U.S. broke the Serbian grip by main force.
Darfur, in which hundreds are being slaughtered at this moment, could be controlled with a few squadrons of helicopter gunships reinforced with Predator-class drones to establish a cordon across which no horsemen would be allowed to venture. But the U.S. is entangled
elsewhere, and no one else is willing to step in. Not a single European state, not a single African country. Not even Kofi Annan, himself an African, was willing to bestir his underlings, instead contenting himself with tirades at the Truman Library condemning the United States for the temerity of interfering with other countries.
Rwanda we have saved for last, since it comprises a special case, the example that in and of itself exposes the bankruptcy of a self-policing international system. Rwanda was the worst massacre since the Cambodian Year Zero, and the only one to match it for sheer lunacy. (There was a kind of sanity, in a debased and repellent form, about the Holocaust and the Ukrainian Famine. If you want to destroy a domestic enemy, you wipe them out to the last infant. So says the style of rationalism unbound embodied by Nazism and communism.) In the past few weeks, a dozen years after the slaughter, it has at last been revealed by the new Rwandan government that the massacre was planned and overseen in the chambers of the French embassy. That the militia that triggered the butchery was trained by French officers. That the mobile radio transmitter that goaded the Hutu into turning on their neighbors was maintained and operated by French engineers. All to carry out a foreign policy whose raison d'etre is that no French-speaking state can ever be allowed to fall under the control of Anglophones (the Tutsis, God help them, are English-speakers). For this, a million died under the most horrifying circumstances conceivable. For France, the cradle of civilization. France, the exemplar of culture. France, the nation that we - vulgar Yanks in particular - should all strive to imitate.
Well, something went wrong with France somewhere along the line - the Revolution of 1789, more than likely - and they are now the exemplar of nothing. They are yet another pirate state, with a record including Algeria, Vietnam, Bokassa's cannibal empire, and Rwanda. (Their recent actions in central Africa, consisting of air strikes on the Sudanese border that evidently killed mostly civilians, serve only to round this series out.) This is a record perhaps second only to that of the USSR itself. France is a state that, like Serbia or Libya, must be
watched closely and if necessary kept in check. And what power is capable of carrying out such a policy? France has nuclear weapons. It has aircraft carriers. It has its own domestic military industry.
In all the wide world, there is only one such nation. For an international system to work, the dominant state must act the role. When it stands aside no one takes its place. The marginal states deteriorate below the medieval level, while the more "civilized" nations behave in manner they would probably not even contemplate under other circumstances. The dominant power does not lead through strict application of force but by example and unvoiced threat as much as anything else. Its hand should be light, its intentions benevolent, as was generally (apart from Ireland) the case with Great Britain. But even a harsh overlordship, as in the case of the Ottomans and Rome, is better than the anarchy that reigns when the superpower declines its role.
If the U.S. is guilty of any crime in its international relations, it is in the repeated attempts to evade its responsibility as the world's leading power. WW I dragged on for years due to U.S. refusal to join the fight against German reaction. A similar action guaranteed a near-total Allied collapse against the most sinister and powerful enemy ever faced by the civilized West during the first two years of WW II. We have already covered the 70s. The 90s were a similar period, when the United States decided to take the decade off under the impression that its job was done (of course, Bill Clinton has apologized for all that during one of his bongo-playing expeditions). Different names have been used for what was essentially the same policy: normalcy, isolationism, detente, the end of history. We don't yet know what the name for next hiatus will be.
We do know that the impulse behind it is the hegemonist doctrine. No other force is keeping the U.S. from playing its international role. No outside element could possibly succeed in holding the country back. Only internal pressure from the media, the educational establishment, the universities, the Democrats. They call themselves idealists, and we can give them that. But American left-wing idealism is hollow, creating not the conditions for a global utopia, but for more wars, more brutality, more genocides, more bloodshed.
It follows that the hegemonist doctrine has to go. This is a dogma that has no beneficial aspect. It presents itself as infinitely virtuous while enabling the most evil aspects of the era. (The majority of its adherents - the kind of leftists who have adopted the label of "liberal" - would no doubt be deeply offended to hear that they are supporters of the Khmer Rouge and the Rwandan murderers -- but there's no ducking this.) It is accepted without thought or consideration, as simply the way educated people think. It is a doctrine that inveigles decent individuals to turn their backs on grotesque suffering, to shut the blinds and close their ears when they hear screams of pain and terror out in the darkness, in the conviction that the police are, if anything, worse than the rapists and murderers.
It is also a doctrine held - if not very seriously or very deeply - by a vast number of people, which raises the question of how such a thing can be challenged. In past decades, the center right has all too often allowed leftist premises to stand unchallenged. The reasons are varied - concentration on easier issues, a sense of hopelessness, an inability to recognize such ideas when they appear - and are not important. What is important is realizing that this stance is always an error. It has allowed the left to set the terms of debate, to define the issues, to prepare the ground before the fight even begins. The result has been much more effort and frustration in conservative efforts than has been strictly called for.
This is nowhere more true than of hegemonist doctrine. In debates concerning foreign policy, it has been treated as an axiom, something inarguable and untouchable. In going along with this charade, conservatives have effectively relegated all their own arguments to the "yes, but..." category. Such a consistent and long-lived tendency to undercut their own premises would be difficult to credit if it wasn't true of many other conservative positions as well.
Three methods would prove effective in breaking the hold of hegemonist doctrine: identifying it for what it is; discrediting its contentions; and replacing it with a healthy, serious conception of national feeling.
Identification - most people have no idea anything like hegemonism exists as a distinct concept, attributing its effects to the general climate of opinion. Since the collapse of Stalinism, the radical left has been very careful not to closely associate itself with the spread of its own ideas, instead depending on sympathetic or naive outsiders (in a previous epoch known as "transmission belts"), a tactic that has proven quite successful. Identifying hegemonism as leftist in its origins, methods, and aims would go a long way toward undermining it. Most people do not care to be intellectually manipulated, which is what this doctrine amounts to.
Identifying it as a distinct doctrine will also force the left to defend it as a doctrine, rather than simply acting as if it's what any sane person believes. (It's amazing, when you think about it, how many aspects of left-wing ideology are defended in those terms, and none other. Amazing, and frustrating, in that they've been able to get away with it for so long.)
Disparagement - This should be easy enough. In truth, few dogmas have been more discredited in recent years than this one. As we have seen, it was discredited first by the aftermath of the Vietnam War, as the world at large careened down the road to Hell without any assistance from the United States. It was discredited once more at the end of the Cold War, when the U.S., at its peak moment of triumph, turned away from any form of imperialist design.
It was discredited again during the 90s, when many of the pathologies of the 70s reappeared in limited form due to American sloth. It needs to be pointed out - over and over again, as many times as is necessary - that the hegemonist "backstory" is pure mythology, that the U.S., far from acting as an imperial state, has walked out of the global arena time and again in the past century, on each occasion leaving abject chaos behind. Human instinct is on our side - nobody cares to believe that they live in a psychopathic country, and the facts back us up on this. They should be reiterated constantly. At least as often as the left repeats their little yarns.
Replacement - The form of patriotism disdained by the left as "my country, right or wrong" is long gone, if it ever existed in the first place. What is needed to put up against hegemonic nihilism is a new form, in which skepticism of acting government is balanced by love of country, faith in its ideals, and both pride and understanding of its history, embracing both triumphs and errors. In other words, a style of patriotism much as it exists in the center right today. The left is commonly allowed to dismiss the patriotism of conservatives as the howling of Strangelovian maniacs. They need to be corrected, as firmly as the situation calls for.
We must keep in mind how easily Ronald Reagan overturned the doctrine when it was at its most powerful, only a few years after the collapse of Vietnam. Reagan achieved this because he believed in his vision of America, and was able to communicate that belief. As in so much else, we need to look back on how the Gipper did it. Above all, we need to keep in mind what has been done before, can be accomplished again.
There's a great irony involved in all this in that even as the hegemonist viewpoint became the consensus, the U.S. was correcting domestic faults and achieving international victories that would have been impossible if the doctrine had any basis in truth. The odious institution of legal segregation was overthrown with no serious bloodshed, a social revolution in the role of women was encompassed in less than a generation, and new industries unimaginable in the last century transformed first the American, and then the global economy. Internationally, the U.S. brought about the collapse of communism, the most efficient system for human degradation ever devised, oversaw the rise of a new Europe that in large part left behind the abattoir politics responsible for the deaths of millions within living memory, and aided in establishing a network of young democracies across the Asian littoral.
Yet despite all this - a record unmatched by any other state in the modern era, perhaps any state in history -- we're supposed to turn our backs and instead brood over ancient wrongs and phantasms dreamed up by fearful, isolated academics ignorant of the very society that supported them.
In fact, the U.S. is pioneering a new method by which a great power relates to the world - as a combination of trading partner, lifeguard, and sheriff. There has been nothing quite like it before, although the British Empire pioneered some aspects (particularly those having to do with trade). Whether it succeeds is the core question of our era. If it does not... the example of Rome lies in reserve.
"Where there is no vision, the people perish." Americans - many of them - have been deprived of a vision of their country for many decades by an ideological construct designed to make patriotism and love of country appear malignant. No society can thrive, much less fight a war, under such a burden of cynicism and self-doubt.
None of these dogmas last forever, and this form of inverted patriotism, this dispensable survival of the heyday of American leftism, has lived past its time, kept alive by misfits who had nothing else to sustain them.
Dispensing with it should be at the top of our agenda. It may be more important than tactics, more important than strategy, more important than anything that happens overseas, since without it being accomplished, nothing else can possibly work.
J.R. Dunn is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.