'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Bleeding Hearts 

The inimitable Jim Lobe asks a curious question regarding the Bolton appointment that I haven't seen anyone else bring up:

Why are leading neoconservatives supporting John Bolton? Bolton's narrow definition of U.S. national interests and his rejection of humanitarian intervention in the face of mass slaughter should be anathema to the internationalism of neoconservatives and their conviction that the U.S. must confront evil everywhere, particularly in cases of genocide.

Archetypal neoconservatives, the Perles and Wolfowitzes of the world, attempt to sell their project, the establishment of an American empire, by telling a story about American moral clarity and the good that American tanks and guns can do if we just give them a chance. Lobe, for example, quotes Perle as saying, "It is a tragedy every time we stand by and ignore...the killing of innocents," regarding the ongoing genocide in Darfur. It's hard not to smile at the irony.

This sort of rhetoric led Hitchens to gamely characterize Wolfowitz as "a real bleeding heart" in a recent interview. Hitchens, of course, either believes or pretends to believe that Wolfowitz is indeed a compassionate champion of the developing world, but understands the mainstream's perception of his new pals enough to know that to openly call Wolfowitz a bleeding heart will be taken as a humorous statement. To me it's an open question to what extent prominent neoconservatives are well-meaning but wrong and to what extent they know exactly what they are doing but like to wax poetical about America's moral responsibility as a Machiavellian ploy.

A very similar question can be asked about America's economic foreign policy: do the elites who control the framework of economic globalization -- the IMF, the World Bank, etc. -- know that they are wrecking countries and sentencing the majority of the world's population to lives of abject poverty?

I don't know the answer -- I used to lean towards believing that most of the people involved with, say, the World Bank believe they're doing noble work. The well-meaning-but-misguided hypothesis is supported by, for example, Robert McNamara's commentary in Errol Morris's The Fog of War. McNamara, guilty about the role he played in the 20th century, says (to paraphrase) "Hey, hundreds of thousands may have died as a direct result of decisions that I made in the past, but now I head the World Bank and help poor countries, and so I'm making up for it" -- implying, of course, that the economic policies forced on the third-world by such institutions as the Bank are unquestionably positive.

On the other hand, the opposite hypothesis is not just supported but presented outright as fact in the deeply flawed but nonetheless interesting memoirs of John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. Perkins claims to have worked consciously to bankrupt third-world countries forcing them into debt in order to enrich various American corporations. He says that he was recruited and groomed specifically to become what he calls an economic hit man.

Anyway, the point of Lobe's piece is that Bolton simply doesn't play the game of providing rhetorical cover for American foreign policy with happy talk about humanitarian intervention. Bolton told Bill O'Reilly, "Our foreign policy should support American interests ... Let the rest of the world support the rest of the world's interests." So when one sees leading neoconservatives lining up to defend Bolton, one wonders what happened to their bleeding hearts.

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