Postwar British domestic policy was afflicted by a phenomenon known as Butskellism. Hugh Gaitskell of the Labour Party and R.A. Butler of the Conservatives were successive Chancellors of the Exchequer (= Treasury Secretary) in those years. Both favored a mixed economy and expansion of the welfare state. It was said, not altogether fairly, that there was nothing to choose between them: hence "Butskellism."
Monday night's debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama showcased something similar in the field of U.S. foreign policy: Obamneyism, I guess, or Rombamaism.
The organizers should have set out an empty chair at the candidates' table: not for Clint Eastwood to interrogate, but for the missing representative of that great cohort of American voters who believe that we meddle far too much in the affairs of distant places, have far too many troops stationed ? apparently for ever ? in too many countries, and attach far more importance to the immemorial rancors of the Middle East than can be justified by the economic, military, and cultural nullity of that wretched place.
"What do each of you see as our role in the world?" asked the moderator at one point.
Romney: "I absolutely believe that America has a responsibility, and the privilege, of helping defend freedom and promote the principles that make the world more peaceful. Those principles include human rights, human dignity, free enterprise, freedom of expression, elections . . ."
Obama: "America remains the one indispensable nation, and the world needs a strong America . . ."
Empty chair: "To be a prosperous and well-defended commercial nation, friendly with all willing to do business with us on fair terms, cherishing out distinctive culture, honoring our national heroes, and nurturing our domestic talent."
Not only was the voice of foreign-policy restraint missing from the debate, so were entire nations.
Mexico, whose stability is roughly ten thousand times more important to us than Syria's, was not mentioned at all. A search of the entire debate transcript for the 4-letter combination "euro" returned one hit, uttered by Obama: "Governor Romney, our alliances have never been stronger. In Asia, in Europe, in Africa, with Israel . . ."
Some other nation name counts in that transcript: Canada 0, India 0, Germany 0, Brazil 0, Tunisia 1, Japan 1, Korea 1, Saudi Arabia 2, Greece 2, Britain/U.K. 2, Turkey 3, Mali 5, Egypt 11, Libya 13, Afghanistan 21, Pakistan 25, Syria 28, China 32, Israel 34, Iran 47.
Other than names in that tally, contemporary Africa got just one mention, in that Obama quote in the previous paragraph.
Do the candidates really think those numbers are a true reflection of our nation's interests? Mali?
Entire topics went unmentioned, too. Demography, for example. Does either candidate have an opinion about mass settlement of Muslims in Western countries? About Russia's fertility crisis? About the ballooning populations of black Africa? Or the sex ratio at birth differentials in Asia? Any of those items will be of far more consequence to the world of our grandchildren than the outcome of Syria's civil war.
And then, the most directly immediate way that ructions in foreign parts impinge upon the lives of ordinary Americans is through settlement of refugees. Ann Corcoran's Refugee Resettlement Watch blog does the Lord's work in exposing the naivety, dishonesty, and corruption of the refugee rackets. A few words on this aspect of our dealings with the world would not have gone amiss.
Nothing, nothing: only agreement on the need to "transition out" of Afghanistan, on the threat of a nuclear Iran, on the importance of promoting "gender equality" in places whose customary social arrangements are none of our damn business.
And all the while the candidate's talk was bending, as if under some great attractive force, towards their domestic policies. "Rebuilding our roads, our bridges, our schools." (Obama) "Rewarding companies and small businesses." (Romney) In their hearts the candidates know there are no votes in foreign policy.
With the Irish troubles hushed and Eastern Europe free, white ethnics now vote entirely as Americans. Interesting things may be happening to the Jewish vote . . . or may not; but ancient allegiances aside, Jews have a choice between a guy who vowed that "I will stand with Israel if they are attacked" and a guy who swore that "We will stand with Israel. And . . . if Israel is attacked, we have their back." To-may-to, to-mah-to.
The United States is the most remote, most secure nation that ever existed. There is really no need for us to have a foreign policy at all, beyond common commercial understandings.
That we have, by agreement between our two major political parties, the foreign policy on display last night, illustrates the triumph of a hysterical moralism, an infantile desire to be liked, and the numbskull conviction that, as the Colonel in Full Metal Jacket believed, "inside every gook there is an American trying to get out."
There never was a nation less likely than ours to be destroyed from without. Perhaps it is the very knowledge of this that makes our self-destructive tendencies so strong.
John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him. He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimismand several other books. His writings are archived atJohnDerbyshire.com.
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