America's global role. As U.S. forces, and policy, settle into the sand for a long stay, a question insistently asked is: Will we become "bogged down" there? The answer is: Of course, and that is good, or at any rate the least bad outcome.
The alternative to being bogged down there is Iraq rampant there. That is, the alternative to being bogged down is not to have gone there.
A quick resort to force might have been satisfying, but catharsis is not an acceptable purpose of foreign policy. It might have been wise, but it certainly would have been no guarantee of a short stay.
One reason the Berlin Wall is down is that U.S. forces were "bogged down" in Europe 45 years after the war ended. It is now 483 months since President Truman committed forces in Korea, and the world is better because some U.S. troops are still there. For many years, concern for oil supplies, and for Israel's safety, have caused America to seek a permanent presence on the ground in the Middle East. To those who say we are now "bogged down" there, others reply: It's about time.
Many complaints and warnings about today's undertaking are coming from conservatives. They, of all people, should understand the impossibility of crisp, tidy ("surgical" is a favored adjective) historical action, particularly with the blunt instrument of military force. Still, many conservatives are sorting themselves into two camps -- the overreachers and the underreachers.
The overreachers have The Wall Street Journal, which would like to "take Baghdad and install a MacArthur regency." Well, now.
Who would play MacArthur? He was a prickly, difficult genius, but a genius. And before he was installed in Tokyo, that city and many others (including Hiroshima and Nagasaki) were pulverized, and the emperor had led his people into capitulation and docility. Who will play that role in Iraq? Or are we to do in Iraq what we were spared the agony of doing in Japan: Take the capital, street by street?
The Journal is always emphatic and frequently correct in criticizing the U.S. government's hubris in domestic policy, Washington's fallacious belief that it can control events. Given The Journal's warranted skepticism about Washington's ability to effect its will in, say, Cleveland, why such confidence in Washington's ability to manufacture MacArthurs and conduct regencies in Baghdad?
Conservative underreachers say Iraq's aggression does not involve U.S. interests proportional to the current commitment. Such conservatives must answer questions they are used to posing to liberals about the use of U.S. power: If not here, where? If not now, when?
The very fact that Kuwait is a boutique nation, more a country club than a country, and no democracy, makes it a suitable subject for the point the Bush administration wants to make. There is no nonsense about the merits of the regime overthrown, none of the sentimentality and mythology ("Brave little Belgium") that has bedeviled policy making in other conflicts. The point here is the nature of the aggressor, not of the aggressed against.
Twice in his congressional testimony last week, Secretary of State James Baker referred to the crisis as an "opportunity." It is "the first opportunity to limit" aggression in the post-Cold War context. It is an "opportunity to solidify the ground rules of the new order." U.S. policy is therefore Machiavellian -- commendably so. In one of the great injustices of intellectual history, Machiavelli became a byword for immorality because he made a moral point: Economizing violence in the long run often requires measured force in the short.
Skepticism about interventionism is intrinsic to conservatism. It is now surfacing -- resurfacing, really -- because of the waning of the historical contingency -- communism -- that caused conservatives to suspend a facet of their faith.
Modern conservatism was born in reaction to the French Revolution's assault on privacy in the name of civic claims. Conservatism has always been defined by its defense of limits on the claims of the public sector.
Contemporary American conservatism, born in reaction to the New Deal and subsequent enlargements of the state, has a strong anti-government cast. The core of this conservatism is objection to conscription of the individual into collective undertakings.
For 45 years, conservatism has been schizophrenic, favoring strong, power-projecting, ambitious, interventionist, confident government in foreign policy but insisting upon demure, chastened government regarding domestic policy. Conservatives lived with the tension of a divided mind because they correctly understood the radical nature of the totalitarian challenge. The sudden snapping of Cold War tension has some conservatives recoiling radically from what was for them an unnatural and uncomfortable tolerance of the confident, demanding, expensive government necessary for a foreign policy of containment.
Jeane Kirkpatrick says, "With a return to 'normal' times, we can again become a normal nation." The rending argument between conservatives, like the argument between Hamilton and Jefferson and between Lincoln and Douglas, concerns nothing less than what this nation should be, normally.