In describing the daily chaos that is Iraq today, Juan Cole (right) accidentally puts his finger on a very important point regarding the present Political Thesis:
It would be ironic if the collapse of Iraq really did discredit political Islam.
But I fear it is more likely to discredit democracy and the United States. It is
hard to discredit utopian ideologies.
Here is my point in response to what Cole wrote. Movement conservatism, as presently practiced, has become a utopian ideology.
You can see it every day, in the writings of both conservative leaders and their followers on the blogosphere. Leaders are followed absolutely until they can no longer be defended. And at that point it is the leader who failed. Never conservatism.
Somewhere, it is imagined, there is a conservative leader who would implement true conservatism in just the right way, leading to absolute growth, absolute peace, and a government small enough to drown in a bathtub. Sometimes St. Ronald Reagan is trotted out to exemplify such a leader, ignoring the 1982 tax hike, the Iran-Contra mess, Ed Meese, and all the other scandals of that time.
Somehow, conservatism has become a utopian ideology. This makes it as hard to kill as Dracula.
This fact, along with the slower aging process that turns 70-year old former war prisoners into viable Presidential timber will make today’s conservatism much harder to blow out of the water than previous political theses. (It’s not McCain’s age that is the problem, but the fact that his followers can be his age and older, living 40 years or more into the past, and still operate the levers of power.)
The last political thesis to become this entrenched in American life was slavery, which lasted in American law for 4 score and 9 years, from 1776 to 1865. The Cold War on which the current Thesis is based was born on December 7, 1941, 3 score and 6 years for those of you counting at home. Hardly anyone was alive to see both slavery be born in American law and to see it die. Tens of millions have been alive throughout the Cold War period.
If anyone asks you why their son had to die in Iraq, in 2007 or 2008, that’s the reason. It’s the best reason, the best cause I can come up with for the loss of their lives. To kill conservatism.
It is, unlike the cause presented by our leaders, a noble cause.
Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the
bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be
sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid
by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago,
so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and
A Great Power has many weapons with which to achieve its aims. It has its economy, it has its culture, it has its political structure, its ideals, its diplomacy. These are the real tools of American leadership, tools that can still work, if they are merely taken seriously by our leaders, as Europe’s leaders take such tools seriously. (And consider at what cost Europe learned this.)
Europe is steadily, albeit slowly, expanding its peace and prosperity, into the intractable Balkans, into the Basque Country, even into Northern Ireland. It’s slow going, there are reversals, but it works. And with our assets, we could do it better, faster. Together with our allies we can make it succeed, and save this planet in the process.
America also has a military, and that military should be, must be, the last resort in any foreign policy. But ever since World War II American Presidents have made it the first weapon, deployed continuously throughout the Cold War throughout the world, and sporadically even since then, most notably in Iraq.
History is proving that weapon to be, if not useless, at least of very limited utility. Its overuse can make all our other weapons useless. Its use in service to a utopian ideology — the use to which George W. Bush now puts it — is as evil as any other evil that has ever befallen mankind.
But when Bush fails, let’s be clear about it. Conservatism failed. It works no better than Communism or Fascism or Islamism or any other -ism that claims it has simple answers to complex questions.
Such answers simply don’t exist.