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First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
By Orson Scott Card October 30, 2005

The End of Moderation?

I was saddened to hear of Brent Scowcroft's pointless criticism of the Bush administration's handling of the War on Terror, and most particularly of the Iraq campaign.

Precisely what was he attempting to accomplish? Even if every decision by the present administration was wrong, did Scowcroft offer a serious plan for accomplishing anything productive starting from where we are now? No -- he is not a strategist now, he's merely a scold.

Scowcroft is the kind of strategic thinker who seems unable to grasp that it is not "peace" to postpone a war, or "statesmanship" to end a war under such terms as to generate the next one.

His strategy of leaving Saddam in place in Iraq after the Gulf War of 1991 was designed with the "realistic" goal of leaving Iraq strong enough to counterbalance Iran's growing power in the Middle East.

But at what cost? The Shi'ites of Iraq felt, correctly, that they had been betrayed, and much of their best leadership was murdered in the aftermath of Scowcroft's "realistic" abandonment of them during their revolt after the Gulf War.

And it was, in part, the flabby outcome of the Gulf War that convinced Osama that America was not serious -- that even when we went to all the trouble of fighting a war, all we aimed for was the status quo ante. We could be attacked with impunity. After all, if we didn't get rid of a monster like Saddam, whom, exactly, would we bother to get rid of?

The trouble with "realism" in foreign policy is that it only works if you actually know what "reality" is -- that is, if you can grasp the present situation so thoroughly that you can predict all possible outcomes and their relative probability.

Whenever you can't do that -- which is always -- then "realism" amounts to "putting off uncontrollable events as long as possible" and "trying to get along with monsters." In other words, realism begins to overlap quite dangerously with appeasement. When you start to think, "Better the monster we know than the chaos we don't know," you are ready to go to Munich and return triumphantly with "peace in our time," which might, with luck, last as long as a year and a half.

That was Scowcroft's genius -- to be utterly discredited by leaving the world far more dangerous than he found it. Even as he claimed to be establishing a "new world order," all he really did was cling desperately to such fragments of the old order as he could.

People who espouse "realistic" foreign policy love to talk as if the only alternative were "unrealistic" foreign policies -- and who would argue for those?

But the truth is that America is an ideological nation. Whatever the complicated origins of our revolution in 1776, our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution of 1783, with the Bill of Rights, established us as a nation with a cause. We would be a beacon of liberty to the nations of the world.

And we have been. The revolutions spawned in imitation of us often went astray, leading to horrible outcomes; but our republican form of government gradually led the way toward democratic reforms throughout Europe, and our independence gradually led the way for all former colonies to aspire to nationhood.

What else binds us together? Of course we have a shared culture, because we live under the same laws and customs; but we have drawn upon every nation, every language, every race, and every ethnicity in the world to make that culture. Or course we have behaved badly sometimes, in the way that nations always do; but our record is extraordinarily clean compared to most, and we have tended to learn more from our mistakes than many others.

So out of our extraordinarily disparate roots in every land, we have grown a new crop of Americans every generation, redefining ourselves by our ideology.

The result is that Americans are ashamed to act like other nations. Intellectual Brits can mock us for being cowboys -- though their empire once covered the world; the French can resent us for running roughshod over the tender sensibilities of former would-be world conquerors.

But we hate it when the world accuses us of acting only in our "realistic" self-interest, because that's not who we are, or at least not who we want to be.

We need to be the good guys.

We Americans hated watching as tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslim men were slaughtered in the genocidal war in the former Yugoslavia; that's why we sat still for Clinton's day-late-and-a-dollar-short bombing of Serbia over Kosovo.

We Americans hated ending the Gulf War in 1991 with Saddam still in power and the Republican Guard deliberately allowed to keep its military ability to slaughter Iraqis at will.

When our soldiers go off to kill and die, they had better be dying for something that actually matters or we won't stand for it. Stalemates feel like losing; realpolitik feels like we're no better than the cynical 19th-century border-drawers who got the world into such an ugly shape in the first place.

Americans will not long endure a government whose goal is a "balance of power." We don't want power to be balanced. We want to feel like our power is enormously lopsided, but that it is used exclusively for either a noble cause or our own direct national defense.

What is more, "realism" does not work. It cannot work, because the equations of power-balancing are fully readable by our enemies and opponents and rivals. When they know that we will go this far and no farther, we become predictable to them.

And when we are predictable, then our enemies are free to act as they wish within the safe, "realistic" boundaries we have laid out for them.

Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an "evil empire" and the citizens of that empire knew that he was right. George W. Bush declared that even Muslim nations have a responsibility to provide freedom and basic human rights to their own people, and the citizens of those countries also know he is right.

It takes longer for a rational ideological policy to show its effects; but the effects are better and last longer.

So ... why did Scowcroft speak out against our present foreign policy?

Not because he has any realistic chance of improving anything, even by his standards of "improvement." He merely provides fuel for the opponents of this administration.

But if they prevail in the next election, will their policies accomplish more and better things than our present ones? Will they be more realistic? Does Scowcroft think that the isolationism and appeasement and token self-defense policies of a Clinton administration are better than what we have now?

Perhaps so. And perhaps he'll get his way -- certainly Hillary, the likely Democratic candidate, is, if anything, more anti-defense and pro-appeasement than Bill ever was.

But under the Clintons, our military strength was gutted, our readiness brought to its lowest ebb since the Depression. If that were to happen again, then what kind of "realistic" foreign policy could America hope to pursue? Without military might and the disposition to use it in a good cause, the only thing we can realistically do about anything in the world is wring our hands and send diplomats around.

You know, like the U.N.

What we have right now is the only realistic sort of foreign policy. When you take action, you will inevitably take some wrong actions among the right ones -- such is human nature, and no government in history has ever been mistake-free.

One has only to look at the greatest statesman of the twentieth century, Winston Churchill, and see some of his crack-brained schemes, to see exactly what I mean.

But despite his errors, he did lead Britain, and the allies, to save the world from fascism. Because he was doing something.

The "realistic" guys are the ones who nearly handed the world to Hitler, gift-wrapped.


Speaking of ideology, weren't those Republicans funny, the way they trashed their President's Supreme Court nominee, Harriet Miers.

It turns out that she was a poor choice, but for reasons nobody knew about when the conservative purists attacked her.

When those speeches she gave to liberal women in Texas came out, and it was clear that she would say to each audience exactly what that audience wanted to hear, then -- and only then -- did we know she either had no core or no courage, and a good Supreme Court justice must have both.

A justice who is too eager to please becomes someone else's pawn, a controlled vote. She wouldn't have been the first, but it is almost certain she would have been such a justice, her vote not for sale, but much more cheaply had -- for a smile.

George W. Bush believed she had a core, because she always seemed consistent to him.

But what else would he see? Since she tells each audience what it wants to hear, she would be bound to do say whatever W needed to hear in order for her to keep his confidence. And since W himself has a core, and courage, by merely echoing him she would give the illusion, to him at least, of having the same.

We did not know that about her, though, until the day before her nomination was withdrawn.

So what was all the savagery from the Right about?

I think they were performing the valuable service of reminding us all that the Right is perfectly capable of being every bit as Puritan as the Left.

Big-tent politics is dead in America, my friends. Because our campaign finance laws had stripped power away from Big Money, we have converted our political system to one dominated by Fanatical Money.

Big Money only cared about getting their team elected in order to gain financial advantages, and the best way to do that was to move to the middle, trying to appeal to the vast majority who want the world to go along smoothly without too many big changes in domestic policies.

But Fanatical Money wants to destroy its enemies and create pure utopias. Fanatical Money wants to drive out of the party anyone who does not agree with them on every point.

The result is that Democrats and Republicans want to have parties to which only a few people are invited. In fact, they want to function like particularly strict churches, where if you are insufficiently ardent for every single dogma, they bring out the bell, the book, and the candle to cast you out of the kingdom of heaven.

If Miers had been what President Bush believed her to be, the Right would still have rejected her. Because the Right is still seething about the fact that the man who sits in the White House right now is actually, at core, a Moderate.

By disposition, by character, and by his record, that is precisely what he is, though the Left would scream at such a characterization -- but what of that? They call anyone who disagrees with them a fascist or worse (I know, I've been branded an extremist myself by the Left merely for being insufficiently politically correct).

But the Right knows he's a moderate. They watch him carefully, and when he seems to stray from his "base," they raise such a ruckus that they hope he'll scurry back out of the vast middle ground of American politics and take shelter with them under their teeny-weeny little tent.

We as a nation were extraordinarily lucky in 2000. Because of his name recognition and genuine likeability, his just-folks charisma and that core-and-courage thing, George W. Bush won the Republican nomination despite being despised by the ideologues.

The Democrats knew what he was. That's why he terrified them. They could always beat a hard-right conservative and they knew it.

That's why they worked so hard to paint Bush as exactly that -- precisely because they knew it wasn't true. They have screamed their lies about Bush so long that they actually believe them now, though all evidence indicates otherwise.

They nearly got away with stealing the 2000 election that way; but we were lucky. One of the parties slipped up and nominated a moderate, and he actually won. Twice.

But next time ... I fear that the election will not offer us much. The Democrats are grimly determined to be the party of the insane Left -- how else to explain the rise of Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean to party leadership? And the Republicans will be eager to nominate someone just as ideologically pure on the Right.

Whom will the American people vote for then? In search of the lesser of two fanatics, what hope do we have?

That's why I watched the performance of the Right over the Miers nomination with despair. She was a bad choice -- but not for the reasons they first opposed her; not for reasons Bush could have known.


I have deliberately set up an ironic situation with this column. Have you seen it?

I know from experience that what passes for political thought in America today is largely at the level of first-year high school debaters. Instead of listening to ideas and measuring them, most people seem to be looking for anything that resembles a contradiction, whereupon they pounce.

So by this point, many a smarty-pants is already blogging out that "Card is so confused that he wants us to have an ideological foreign policy, but detests ideological political parties. What is he, for ideology or against it?"

They'll completely miss the main point: "Courage and core."

And, just so you know right now, the "contradiction" these poor underqualified "intellectuals" think they have detected is no contradiction at all. It's merely an artifact of the language and of poor analytical skills.

What I called for in foreign policy was an ideological core, rationally applied. Not crusades, but rational interventions where it is within our power to advance the causes America stands for, while also promoting our national security.

And what I called for in domestic politics was not to abolish ideology, but to keep it within rational bounds, nominating moderates where moderates can be found, because the party that consistently does that, and is seen to do that, will become the majority party of this nation for a generation.

In both cases, what I'm calling for is moderation: rationally ideological foreign policy; rationally ideological domestic politics.

I will, of course, get neither, in the long run. Because W will not be president starting a little over three years from now, and who in either party, among those who stand the slightest chance of nomination, is even trying to tone down the puritan screeching?

Copyright © 2005 by Orson Scott Card.

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