These are dark days for the Republic – and the world – what with war clouds looming on every horizon and a miasma of menace hanging over us in our everyday lives. The other day as I considered going to the Sonoma County Fair I was suddenly struck by the not unreasonable fear that Something Might Happen – a deranged shooter, perhaps, out to prove an utterly deranged point. I checked myself: what am I thinking? Is life now totally crazy? Do I want to live in a society where it’s not paranoid to have such thoughts? And yet …
And yet this morning, as I wondered what I’d be writing about today, I scanned the headlines and saw a number of bright spots in otherwise darkening skies. Perhaps they’re underscored by the general bleakness, but in any case they’re there. Here are a few:
A recent NBC News report on the underreported battles taking place in the GOP platform committee informs us:
"Another area of debate emerged between national security hawks and the more libertarian-minded isolationists during a debate over foreign policy. While isolationists tried to pass measures that would have condemned ongoing U.S. involvement in wars in the Middle East and opposed efforts to condemn the shrinking military budget, the hawks won in every instance."
Yes, we lost – so where’s the “bright spot”? It’s in the fact that this kind of debate is unprecedented: previous Republican platform committees have been the equivalent of a Soviet party congress, where neoconservative orthodoxy was unchallenged and it was only a question of how militaristic the resulting document was going to be. With the rise of – dare I say it – Donald Trump, all that’s changed. The dam is breached, and the waters are pouring forth. Reporter Molly Ball, writing in The Atlantic, gives us a taste of the proceedings, paying much attention to the efforts of “Eric Brakey, a libertarian state senator from Maine “:
“Brakey proposed to condemn the Obama administration’s intervention in Libya and blame it for destabilizing the region and empowering the Islamic State. ‘The deposing of secular dictators in the Middle East empowers our enemies,” his text read. “We oppose the continuing of this failed practice.’
“Defending his views, Brakey summoned Trump: ‘Even our presumptive nominee acknowledges that the decision to take out the secular dictator in Iraq was a mistake,’ he noted. But other delegates said they didn’t like the idea of the GOP ‘defending evil dictators.’ That amendment was defeated, as were several other Brakey proposals aimed at turning the party in a less interventionist direction. Delegates declined to soften the party’s stance toward Russia, to categorically condemn foreign aid, or to call the drug war a failure.”
In defeat there is the promise of a future victory: and of course there’s the presumptive GOP nominee himself, who has said the Iraq war was a monstrous mistake – and, going further than any mainstream politician, declared before an audience of GOP mandarins that we were lied into it.
Trump has also said that we need to ratchet down tensions with Russia, and – yes – maybe even cooperate with them on items of mutual concern, i.e. Syria. And it looks like this common sense approach has even infiltrated the Obama administration, amazingly enough, where a proposal to do exactly that in Syria is in the works.
While a “stepped up bombing campaign” may not exactly seem like good news, the point is that the target of this campaign is Jabhat al-Nusra, the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria that Gen. David Petraeus (and perhaps Hillary Rodham Clinton) wanted to team up with in order to overthrow Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad. With Petraeus in disgrace, and Hillary out of Foggy Bottom, that harebrained scheme is now in the trashcan where it belongs.
In a larger sense, this proposal – if it goes forward – means the end of Russia’s international isolation and the beginning of a thaw in Russo-American relations – good news for those of us who have been warning of the dangers of provoking the Russian bear.
Think of where we were, oh, say in 2003: the US went charging into Iraq, and the neoconservatives were riding high. They had a regime-change plan not only for that unfortunate country but for the entire region. They were going to turn the Middle East into a Jeffersonian democracy at gunpoint. Today we are living with the tragic results of their hubris – and the nation has learned an important lesson. Yes, even the Republican party has learned it. As Pat Buchanan told Molly Ball in the piece cited above:
“[H]e cannot imagine the Republican Party reverting to its former orientation post-Trump. ‘You can’t go home again,’ he said. ‘Bush Republicanism – globalism, free trade, interventionism, democracy promotion, waging wars to remake the Mideast in the image of Vermont – it’s all over. Neoconservatism, I don’t know how you come back to it. The American people won’t stand it anymore.’”
No, they won’t stand for it – and that’s a big change for the better.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN