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Daniel doesn’t like Dr. L’s linking up of anti-capitalism to isolationism. Unfortunately, he passionately exaggerates, to the point of disfigurement, Dr. L’s discussion of a certain anti-capitalism as a ” variant ” [my bold] of the “postpolitical fantasy” of certain, often midwestern, conservatives. So it is true that

[t]he idea that the central [my bold] complaint among non-interventionists on the right is that U.S. wars are driven by anything so rational as pursuit of new markets is just hilariously wrong,

just as it’s true that nobody’s alleging that. Everyone should agree that the outrage against the Iraq war, right and left, is incomprehensible without any reference to the real manner in which big geopolitical decisions are sometimes made with economic factors in mind. The controversial idea, of course, is that ultimately the United States can’t prevail in its ongoing quest for security unless the whole world is cumulatively integrated into the Western-led economy of capitalist institutionalism. Despite the wild passions that surround this notion, at its root it touches a real empirical question about what ensures the durability of ‘the West’ as we know it. So it might very well be the case, for instance, that maintaining open access to Kuwaiti oil was a basic American interest worthy of forcible protection, defensively speaking. But probably conservatives who don’t really like Gulf War I aren’t too excited about viewing such quasi-public economic interests as the sorts of national interests proper for a spirited defense. I myself have a lot more love for the capitalism of individuals than the capitalism of corporations. My crunchy tendencies are a subject for another post, but there’s no doubt that corporate personhood has brought with it a load of insanity and perversity on a scale and of a type by no means foreordained by the rise of mere capitalism. And US superpowerdom is an unnatural and overexpensive condition from which we need to withdraw with perhaps unparalleled cleverness.

At any rate, though this pomocon is fairly soft on foreign ‘empire’ (in no small part because I’m persuaded the US is simply bad at empire, and even faux-empire is an abberation that will be corrected), he is fairly harsh on aggressive warfare. (Since the demise of the USSR, Iraq was, and still is, the only country against which we had a half-decent case for invasion.) Even defensive warfare can be overrated: would you go to war for Taiwan? Daniel thinks it absurd that we would ever have to fight a defensive war against China. But I find it absurd that a conservative — or a liberal — of any stripe would view as acceptable a world in which China was the hegemonic or leading imperial or lone great power. It may be odd that I hold this line while also being a ‘notorious’ softie on Russia, but them’s the breaks; and what’s at stake in the China debate is a vision of the good life as a life of equality in servitude that really is competetive globally with our vision of the good life as one of equality in freedom. That’s no reason to go to war with China, and the laughs directed at some neocons who have been sounding that tocsin since 1995 are often well-aimed. But it is a reason for the United States to keep in fighting trim.

I want a US that can beat China and take people like Daniel seriously. Is that too much to ask? Or is it our last, best hope? Hopefully, it’s not both.

More on: Foreign Affairs

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