Chucky K has vomited forth a mass over at the Weekly Standard that some people apparently find impressive. The key observation is that American decline is optional, not inevitable. There’s certainly something to this; there are different ways to manage the steadily declining economic profile of the United States on the world stage, and the military hegemony of the United States is dependent upon a series of policy choices made in Washington. Beyond that (and beyond a curious inability to admit that basic shifts in the international economy are occurring, and that these shifts make change in the political structure of international politics inevitable), Chucky K’s argument comes down to two things:
1. We need to be fiscally responsible to maintain our power.
2. The world views us as really benign, which explains the lack of balancing behavior.
Both of these have something to them. It is unquestionably true that huge, long term deficits undermine the ability of the United States to maintain its relative power position. It is also true that the United States has not, by and large, been viewed as a threat of the same scale as some other potential hegemons.
What gets me, however, is that by following the foreign and domestic policies advocated by Chucky K, the United States goes very far in undermining both of these pillars of its international standing. On the fiscal question this should be obvious; the Bush administration, through pursuing the foreign policy recommended by Charles Krauthammer and through the pursuit of massive tax cuts during the pursuit of such policy seriously undercut the fiscal health of the United States. We went from significant and growing budget surpluses to huge budget deficits to economic collapse. This is not, as they say, good for the project of empire. Moreover, Chuck K is on the record opposing a series of steps that would substantially enhance the fiscal health of the United States. If the US adopted UK style NHS tomorrow, the savings would be astronomical, and the money could be devoted to pretty aircraft carriers and shiny F-22s. But is Chucky fighting for nationalized health care? Is he fighting for a rational tax structure that would help remedy the massive deficits created by the Bush administration’s tax policy and economic collapse policy? Where’s Chucky?
The benignity pillar is an even worse joke. You see, the opinion of people abroad only matters to neoconservatives under one condition. The foreigner in question must be advocating a policy that neoconservatives really, really want. If this condition holds, then the foreign opinion in question is absolutely critical. If it doesn’t, then foreign opinion can be ignored. Thus, the small minority of Czechs and the slightly larger minority of Poles that want missile defense matter. The vast majority of Europeans who think we’re stupid for trying to put missile defense in Eastern Europe are irrelevant. Israelis dissidents don’t exist; the Nationalist government of Taiwan (which favors accomodation with China) doesn’t exist; South Korea doesn’t exist when it favors closer ties with North Korea; Iranian dissidents don’t exist when the oppose a US invasion, and so forth.
All of that is fairly obvious. The true stupidity is that Chucky K invokes international opinion as a critical pillar of US power!!! That’s what “benignity” is, after all; it’s the perception by the world that the US is an actor for good. When you do things that the world thinks are stupid (such as invading Iraq) the US looks less benign. THIS IS NOT A COMPLICATED CONCEPT TO UNDERSTAND. If the US derives power from appearing non-threatening (and Krauthammer makes this argument directly) then the US loses power when it appears threatening. This is pretty much boilerplate balance of threat theory, and really isn’t that hard of a concept to grasp. Chucky K either can’t or won’t, because he simultaneously claims that the US derives it power from the perception of benignity, and from how threatening we are. The completion of the circle, I suppose, is the fact that people who don’t like the things we do don’t exist in a neoconservative world.
There’s more, of course; Chucky K blasts Obama’s “dithering” in Afghanistan, while failing to note that seven years of Bush administration dithering (heartily recommended by Mr. Krauthammer!!) played at least some role in creating the current situation. But that’s all secondary in face of the fundamental problem; Krauthammer can’t go two paragraphs without setting forth propositions that are glaringly in contradiction with one another.
Look; the United States really, really needs at least two functioning, policy-interested political parties. And it really, really needs a serious debate on foreign policy. Those in favor of hegemony should be part of this conversation, because the US holds at least a quasi-hegemonic world position, and because there are, in fact, good argument in favor of some construction of US hegemony. But Chucky K ain’t part of that debate, by choice. He has nothing to offer, and I very much wish that, someday, conservatives will purge “thinkers” like Chuck K from their movement.