The winter of our disco tent

Charles W. Freeman Jr., a former US diplomat under Nixon, BushDaddy, and Clinton, recently gave a speech on Diplomacy and Empire (via) to a meeting of retired foreign service personnel. It’s a fairly stark indictment of BushBaby/neocon “diplomacy is for girly-men” tantrum-based foreign policy1:

Our humbling on the battlegrounds of the Middle East does not reflect military inadequacy; it is rather the result of the absence of strategy and its political handmaiden – diplomacy. We are learning the hard way that old allies will not aid us and new allies will not stick with us if we ignore their interests, deride their advice, impugn their motives, and denigrate their capabilities. Friends will not walk with us into either danger or opportunity if we injure their interests and brush aside their objections to our doing so. Those with whom we have professed friendship in the past cannot sustain their receptivity to our counsel if we demand that they adopt secular norms of the European Enlightenment that we no longer exemplify, while loudly disparaging their religious beliefs and traditions. Diplomacy-free foreign policy does not work any better than strategy-free warfare.

When war is not the extension of policy but the entrenchment of policy failure by other means, it easily degenerates into mindless belligerence and death without meaning. Appealing as explosions and the havoc of war may be to those who have experienced them only vicariously rather than in person, military success is not measured in battle damage but in political results. These must be secured by diplomacy.

The common view in our country that diplomacy halts when war begins is thus worse than wrong; it is catastrophically misguided. Diplomacy and war are not alternatives; they are essential partners. Diplomacy unbacked by force can be ineffectual, but force unassisted by diplomacy is almost invariably unproductive.

Freeman runs an organisation called the Middle East Policy Council which includes on its board Exxon and Boeing executives and George McGovern. Under BushDaddy, Freeman was Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. His wiki page includes the following quote:

One of the major things the Saudis have historically done, in part out of friendship with the United States, is to insist that oil continues to be priced in dollars. Therefore, the US Treasury can print money and buy oil, which is an advantage no other country has. With the emergence of other currencies and with strains in the relationship, I wonder whether there will not again be, as there have been in the past, people in Saudi Arabia who raise the question of why they should be so kind to the United States.

Overall, Freeman’s position strikes me as clear sighted about the insanity of Bushist belligerence and militarism and about the damage that Bush administration “policies” have done to America’s global standing, but combined with a kind of nostalgia for a simpler era of merry globalisation and American economic hegemony. This seems fairly similar to the stance of principled conservatives like Clyde Prestowitz and Paul Craig Roberts — though I have no idea if Freeman is anything like the hard-core free-marketista that someone like Roberts is.

Also worth checking out is this review of Joe Conason’s It Can Happen Here. Conason’s book makes the case for how the US is turning into an authoritarian state using the lens of Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here.

From this fictional plot line, a comparison to the authoritarian tactics and mindset of the current administration is starkly drawn by the author. This structure allows Conason to explore the complex inter-relationships between different areas of civil liberty encroachment. Make no mistake: One of the most difficult tasks facing those who want to sound the alarm about this administration to the apolitical and previously apathetic is a way to shape the narrative in a coherent fashion, to tie together the countless strands of domestic spying, legalized torture, use of propaganda and signing statements, lying about motives to go to war, imposition of religious dictates into the public square and all the other horrors the Bush administration has perpetuated. Conason, aside from being a masterfully rational and lucid writer who resists lapsing into overstatement and false alarmism, seems to have hit upon the most straightforward strategy of explaining the tangled mass of authoritarian strictures America has suffered under Bush’s rule. This is no small feat, and one many political observers have failed to accomplish.

Conason, after introducing a bare-bones synopsis of It Can’t Happen Here, breaks his own book into digestible sections, beginning with “The ‘Post-9/11 Worldview’ of Karl Rove,” which explores the rise of the notion that this nation is at permanent war, that civil liberties must be surrendered for our own protection and that anyone who questions this philosophy is a traitor. The second section, “Lawlessness and Order,” outlines the often under-the-radar rise of restrictions and controls more closely associated with a police state than a functioning democracy. The third section, “State Secrets and Unofficial Propaganda,” examines the manipulation of the compliant media in advancing – and rarely questioning – an authoritarian national agenda. The fourth section, “The Corporate State of Grace,” reviews the history of the coupling of corporate America and the religious right – and what both parties are getting out of the partnership that superficially appears to share disparate aims. The final section, “The Revenge of Nixon’s Heirs,” traces the careers of those responsible for strengthening the idea of the unitary executive, from the reign of the man who asserted there were no limits on the president in wartime to the current officeholder who has adopted the same attitude – with the alarming advancement of more sophisticated and proven techniques over his predecessor.

The brave among you are now invited to imagine Cheney wandering the corridors of the White House in a polyester leisure-suit of some extinct color while singing “Shake-shake-shake, shake your booty” and John Bolton with his moustache dyed psychedelic colors urging people to do “Do the hustle”. Those who are not quite so brave should probably ignore the previous sentence.

Exeunt, pursued by a Templar disco ball

disco-ball.jpg


  1. Oh alright, I’ll say it (but I’ll put it in this footnote and I don’t have to like it): read the whole thing. [back]

14 Responses to “The winter of our disco tent”


  • ‘Beware of poking old friends in the eye. You never know when you will need them, or their eyes.’

    –Somebody Not Terribly Famous

  • conservatives, especially those of freeman’s kind usually have only one principle, which is true-blue freemarketeering.

  • aif:

    The foundation of Freeman’s speech seems to me more a realist-school national security type argument than a hard-core free market argument. There are economic and market concerns sure, but there’s no reason to believe he’s necessarily any worse on that score than, say, Bill Clinton (i.e. reasonably icky without being stupid). Roberts, on the other hand, really is a pretty extreme libertarian type, and I doubt Prestowitz is much better (Prestowitz was a trade negotiator for the Reagan admin).

    I should have included Chalmers Johnson as a comparison. Johnson was a real Cold Warrior, but has no illusions that the threat from terrorism is remotely equivalent to the circumstances of the Cold War, and has perhaps an even clearer vision than Freeman of how Bush is damaging civilisation.

  • does the melon ghost like disco?

  • This guy sounds like this old crusty doctor who taught my business strategy course at Columbia.

    You know the type:

    Who cares about ethics or anything important like that. We’re in it for the pure power, class. Strategy is the answer. Failure is not. If you fail, it’s because you suck at strategy.

    Any questions?

  • While I’m not a fan of politics in the absence of ethics, Nixonian strategy looks more appealing by the day, if only by comparison to that with which we are now cursed. The current administration offers not only a lack of morality, but also any hint of intelligence or practicality. It is, in fact, a Perfect Storm of Incompetence,

  • Nixonian realism leads to Evil Things That Suck, but pretty much tries to avoid the category of Evil Things That Suck Because They Produce Anarchy And Destabilization.

    On the other hand, we have Bush whose thought processes run something along the lines of:

    “Armageddon? Oooh, shiny!”

  • well, you can rock me the eff to sleep!

  • i dont disagree that they see the world with a clear vision, and some of it is quite sane.

    it’s just that at the base of it all, there is a desire to have a giant global free-market of some unspecified sort. of course, they dont mind exploiting the non-free-markets that we have today to make themselves quite comfortable, but that’s part of their realism at play.

  • By even suggesting that President Bush and company aren’t serious, you prove yourselves to be unserious liberals. I will now proceed to slap you with my KELLY LeBROCK!!!

  • The thought of all those powerful old white guys sitting around deciding that the current efforts to secure US hegemony are not adequate in the long term makes me want to bang my head on the desk. There only concern is the how.

  • fish will probably love this

    and it’s some good stuff to chew on anyway

  • AIF, you are quite correct I loved that article. It also started a little pissing match with Brad “Chomsky Hater” DeLong here, then here. Needless to say Faux schooled DeLong.

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