The American Conservative, October 2009

american conservative october 2009

The cover may suggest an alarmist piece about Pakistan.  The article actually in the issue, though, is precisely the opposite.  Granting that Pakistan is an important country that has very serious problems, it asserts that there is no chance that it will break up, fall into the hands of Osama bin Laden, or launch a nuclear attack.  If the USA sobers up and pursues a more realistic policy in Afghanistan, Pakistan might even make progress on its real problems.

Elsewhere in the issue, Andrew Bacevich quotes Cold Warrior Richard Pipes’ 1979 declaration to the effect that since Afghanistan is a place of no strategic importance, the Soviet invasion of that country must have been a step towards a goal elsewhere.  Bacevich agrees that Afghanistan was without strategic importance when Pipes said that, and says that it continues to be so.  Where he disagrees with Pipes is in his assessment of the rationality of the Soviet leadership of the 1979-1989 period, and indeed of the US leadership of today.  He claims that the Soviets invaded Afghanistan because they believed that showing power there would shore up their empire; in fact, the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was a significant factor in the eventual collapse of the USSR.  Likewise, America’s leaders want to persist in Afghanistan, not because of they have made any rational calculation indicating that they should, but because they are dare not make a calculation that might indicate that they should not.

This issue includes a piece by always-intriguing, highly eccentric writer Eve Tushnet.  Tushnet has a gift for the lapidary; she describes growing up in Washington, DC as one of very few white children in her neighborhood, albeit one “weird enough that my skin color was not one of the obvious targets of teasing.”  Recounting her childhood Halloweens, she writes that “A mask is above all an attempt to communicate, to create and reshape meaning over the silence of skin.”  Quite a provocative phrase, “the silence of skin.”  On a par with her line from 2008, “by religion, I mean an understanding of the nature of love.”

Michael Brendan Dougherty profiles investor and prospective US Senate candidate Peter Schiff.  That may not sound exciting, but Dougherty’s piece is hilarious, worthy of A. J. Liebling.

David Brown discusses the influence of the thesis Richard Hofstadter expounded in his 1964 essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.”  Hofstadter represents the paranoid style as something that erupts into politics from the margins of society, as the dispossessed brood over their resentments.  Yet, Brown points out, this hardly describes all cases of the paranoid style.  It is very often the ruling elite that organizes paranoia.  Brown cites the obvious recent example, Codoleezza Rice’s concession that while there was no evidence that Iraq had nuclear weapons, “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”  The very fact that there was no rational basis for fearing that Iraq would detonate a nuclear weapon became the justification for cultivating that fear.   “The agony of 9/11 sent the Bush administration into a tailspin from which it never recovered.  Rather than cool leadeship, the country got a pack of doomsayers who radically oversold the threat of Saddam Hussein.”

Hofstadter’s concern was with the post-World War Two Second Red Scare and the far right fringe groups of the mid-1960s.  I’m surprised Brown didn’t trace the lineage of the Second Red Scare back to the Brown Scare the Roosevelt administration tried to whip up during World War Two.  That one went so far as to put a ragtag collection of Nazi sympathizers, racist kooks, and a couple of dissident intellectuals on trial in federal court on charges that they had conspired to overthrow the government.  The fact that several of the defendants met each other for the first time in the courtroom didn’t stop the government from arguing that they had formed a criminal conspiracy, apparently by means of telepathy.  Nothing McCarthy & co did in the 50s, or that the John Birch Society and its congeners claimed in the 60s, was any more outlandish or any less rational than the behavior of the US Justice Department in that case.

Kenneth Minogue discusses the thought of Michael Oakeshott.

Ron Paul sketches a case against the Federal Reserve.

Bill Kauffman goes to a Canadian Football League game.  That reminds him of CFL fan and political theorist George Parkin Grant, a traditionalist conservative whose opposition to internationalism and the modern state in its warmaking phase made him an unlikely patron of the Canadian New Left.  “It as if Russell Kirk had written the most damning indictment of the Vietnam War and then become the eminence grise of SDS.”  Not that it would have been all that surprising if Russell Kirk had written the most damning indictment of the Vietnam War.  He had an antiwar background stretching to the 1930s, and his indictment of the 1991 war against Iraq is damning enough.

The mention of George Grant means that Kauffman has to bring up the dreariest of contemporary Canadian topics, Grant’s nephew, Michael Ignatieff.  When Ignatieff worked for the BBC, his colleagues coined a phrase to describe him.  The New Statesman told that story ten years ago.  Now Ignatieff is the leader of the opposition in the Canadian parliament, the only apparent alternative to the continued government of Tory Prime Minister Stephen Harper.  Considering that pair, Obama doesn’t look so bad.

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