Why are you a neocon, for Christ’s sake? Well, it’s not for Christ’s sake, to start with. Given that the neocons are the “evil” people who want to lead war on everyone for western dominance, it does seem to be a rather odd choice for someone who is not (yet?) a colonial administrator.
We have a tendency in the west to believe that the west is really a bad place. This is so because of “Moynihans Law”: In societies where there is a free press, there is maximum criticism of free societies. In countries where journalists get shot, there is not so much criticism of the regime in question. We could of course criticize these regimes in the free world, yet the mistakes of our own societies are just so much more interesting for our people because they live here.
So, the worse a society gets, the better it might think it is, because all that the enslaved people know is the fake news of their regime and their possibly diverging personal experience, as far as they can tell what is really going on. This is certainly the case in much of the Arab world. At the same time, free people might think that their own societies are actually bad because they are criticized so often.
However: The free world is really great. Here, human rights are guaranteed, we can decide for ourselves how we want to live our lives. In dictatorships, people starve, they get tortured and killed and their minds are controlled by the ruling thugs.
The root cause
There actually is a lot of empirical research on this very question. Political scientist R.J. Rummel sums up the results in his study The Holocaust in Comparative and Historical Perspective. Mark Humphreys puts it like this:
- Ethnic diversity does not correlate with democide. Homogenous states are not the most peaceful. There is no significant correlation.
- Culture, race, religion or geography do not correlate with democide. There is no significant correlation. Everywhere in the world could commit democide if it is totalitarian. Similarly, everywhere in the world can refrain if it is democratic.
- Sadly, education and prosperity do not correlate with democide. There is no significant correlation.
- Only one thing correlates with democide. A powerful, non-democratic state correlates with democide (and civil war, and foreign war). Democracy correlates with no democide and peace. This isn’t an argument. This is empirical fact.
By now, something like a natural law of international relations has been discovered: Democratic peace. As soon as every country is a liberal democracy, there will be world peace. This is exactly what German philosopher Immanuel Kant stated in his essay Zum ewigen Frieden – Perpetual Peace.
Everyone wants world peace. But not everyone wants to reach it by means of war.
Quite so. I don’t either. Preferably, I would want all dictators to simply accept how great democracy is and adopt it. But they kind of don’t. Dictators want power and they don’t care about the wellbeing of their people.
I’m still not necessarily for war. Ronald Reagan has famously adopted an effective means to end communism: He increased military spending, supported the enemies of the communists (some of whom were pretty awful themselves) and he threatened the Soviets until they couldn’t compete any longer. Then the Iron Curtain collapsed.
However, we are in a very different situation now. Our enemy is a bunch of terrorists who spread by convincing people of their ideas. This means we have to do a whole lot of convincing ourselves, which the western media tragically fail to do. Instead, they still focus on our own mistakes in the battle against Islamism and they hardly mention the countless atrocities of our enemies – and why they even are our enemies in the first place. And what is so much better about our own societies.
Yet, terrorists are not exclusively organized without headquarters and support from identifiable organizations. There are state supporters of terrorism like Iran, Syria and a number of other countries. In fact, our “ally” Saudi Arabia is one of the most important terrorist supporters.
We shouldn’t simply attack these states, but we have to be strong in the face of their own conviction. We have to make clear that the support of terrorism must end or there will be consequences. There have been consequences in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now we may not just back down and give up.
I don’t want to lead a war on dictators because of what they think but eventually because of what they do, insofar as it includes democide, supporting terrorists and / or attacking foreign countries.
What about sanctions?
Instead of rushing to war, why not make use of economic sanctions? This can be an option, but historical experience tells us that sanctions are often the less humane solution because they lead to even more civilian casualties.
Mark Humphreys gives the example of Iraq: “In 1991 in Iraq, we can now see that war was the humane option, not sanctions. Finishing the Gulf War and deposing Saddam in 1991 would have been far more humane than what happened with a decade of containment, sanctions, and Saddam’s continued mass murder. War to depose Saddam in 1991 would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.”
Norman Podhoretz gives us another famous example: “Bin Laden was not the first enemy of a democratic regime to have been emboldened by such impressions. In the 1930’s, Adolf Hitler was convinced by the failure of the British to arm themselves against the threat he posed, as well as by the policy of appeasement they adopted toward him, that they were decadent and would never fight no matter how many countries he invaded.”
In the mind of a dictator, sanctions and resolutions are signs of weakness. There should have been a number of wars in order to prevent even greater catastrophes: A war against Germany in 1933 would have saved tens of millions, a war against Russia in 1917 might well have saved 100 million lives.
If war is so great, why does no one think so?
War is not great, of course. But war can be, depending on the circumstances, the lesser evil. Military historian Victor David Hanson states that “the willingness to use force against evil in its infancy usually end up, in the terrible arithmetic of war, saving more lives than they cost. All this can be a hard lesson to relearn each generation”.
It is very counter-intuitive to imagine that war could save lives. But it’s true. Two of the fathers of neoconservatism, William Kristol and Robert Kagan, wrote in their famous essay National Interest and Global Responsibility in 2000:
- A strong America capable of projecting force quickly and with devastating effect to important regions of the world would make it less likely that challengers to regional stability will attempt to alter the status quo in their favor. It might even deter such challengers from undertaking expensive efforts to arm themselves in the first place. … In Europe, in Asia and in the Middle East, the message we should be sending to potential foes is: “Don’t even think about it.” That kind of deterrence offers the best recipe for lasting peace, it is much cheaper than fighting the wars that would follow should we fail to build such a deterrent capacity.”
- “With the necessary military strength, … the United States can set about making trouble for hostile and potentially hostile nations, rather than waiting for them to make trouble for us. Just as the most successful strategy in the Cold War combined containment of the Soviet Union with an effort to undermine the moral legitimacy of the Moscow regime, so in the post-Cold War era a principal aim of American foreign policy should be to bring about a change of regime in hostile nations – in Baghdad and Belgrade, in Pyongyang and Beijing, and wherever tyrannical governments acquire the military power to threaten their neighbors, our allies and the United States itself.”
And why neocon?
The neocons are, quite simply, the people who recognize these facts. They do not tend to recognize other facts, like that religion is not mostly “useful”, as some seem to think, but a rather dangerous playtoy for politicians. Church and state should be separated.
I disagree with many secular humanists about priorities, however. All of our typical issues, secularism, separation of church and state, securing a proper science education – what does it all matter compared to saving millions of lives? To finding and spreading a working recipe to achieve world peace? Sorry, my friends, but it matters not. I often get to hear that my problem was a lack of compassion. Rather, it might well be too much compassion. I cannot sit here and watch how millions starve in North Korea, how women are getting stoned to death in Islamic countries, how Iran prepares a nuclear war. If that is alright with your conscience, fine. But do not come to me and tell me how I lack compassion.
And that’s why my two favorite presidents happen to have been evangelical Christians. I do not particularly like anything connected to evangelicalism and certainly none of Reagan’s and Bush’s religious policies like opposition to abortion and evolution. Yet, they were certainly not theocrats and they made important decisions in matters of foreign policy. Like ending communism and fighting dictators and terrorists. Which was more important.
According to neo-neocon:
neocon–person who used to be a liberal but is now still mostly liberal on social issues but hawkish on foreign policy, particularly about spreading democracy.
That’s me, baby.