In patience to abide

“Too much peace only leads to war,” a beautiful young Indian lady said to me, once upon a time. “And too much war only leads to peace,” she added. This, I reflected, was a succinct account of how things go on this planet. Those idealists who would put an end to war, are shown to encourage it, by this aphorism. In considering the foreign policy views of Pat Buchanan (who thinks he is the brains behind Donald Trump), I should like to begin with a grand concession. It is so important, I have put it at the top.

Fill your enemies with the certainty, that messing with you will lead to their extinction, and you are reasonably assured of peace. Buchanan and Trump do understand this point. Buchanan looks back on the Republican party tradition, and notes Democrats started almost every foreign war. He regrets that the Republicans got into that business, after the Reagan years; but he is clear that his country needs a strong standing Army, plus ships and aeroplanes and missiles and things, if it is to speak softly.

On this, we are in total agreement; and even the Bushes (both father and son) would agree, in principle, that the military-industrial complex ought not to be casually aroused. Lions, as the Americans know, and the British knew, and the Romans before them, need not overmuch worry about molestation, even when exposed in the open grass. For a nation that can afford it, “peace through strength” will almost always work.

Not quite always, however. Some enemies are crazy, or shall we say they “miscalculate,” the way Saddam did each time he took on a Bush. He thought they were “paper tigers,” pussy cats; that they lacked the will to enforce their commands; that faced with wily, middle-eastern intransigence, they would yawn and turn away.

What is an Imperialist to do, confronted with such a vexationist? To which I reply, make an example of him, pour encourager les autres.

(I have been called an Imperialist on many occasions. I am one, so I do not object. Better our empire than theirs, I aver.)

The junior Bush also miscalculated. Curiously it was not because he listened to the “neo-conservatives” in his Pentagon (a few well-informed, high-intelligent Jews, who had travelled the region and could speak its languages). Their advice, as I recall it, partly from first hand, was correct. They were not over-eager to go into Iraq, but could find no alternative. They were much less eager to try the silly experiment of turning Iraq into a “democracy”; it struck them as the formula for another Vietnam. It was the idealists in the State Department who thought, “let’s make Iraq another shining city on the hill”; and Bush himself, in one of his “Lincoln” moments.

Notwithstanding, scapegoats were needed when the adventure started going badly — thanks to biting off more than anyone could chew — and not for the first time in history, everyone started picking on the Jews. For that’s what “neo-con” means — Jews — and that’s why I say that I am a neo-con. Though really, of course, I am just an Imperialist.

It is tedious to recall what was wrong with Saddam. We could perhaps have overlooked his propensity to bury his own people in mass graves: several hundred thousand of them in the graves so far discovered. He may not have been as great an offender as the neighbouring Ayatollahs in the sponsorship of “terror” — from Mali to Pakistan — but he was operating on a large and growing scale. His proprietorial interest in Hamas, and psychopathy towards Israel, were of course taken into the account. For quite apart from being Jewish, Israel is the front line of the West. There were moreover reports from all the allied intelligence agencies of Saddam’s inventory of “WMD” — which the fool himself had been helping to substantiate. Given their general incompetence, our spies had no way to distinguish fact from bluster.

Gaddafi of Libya could be reasoned with, by hardly more than a quick bombing around his residential compound in Tripoli. After the invasion of Iraq, he went all friendly, freely admitting to his nuclear programme, and inviting Americans to help him retire it, over tea. He even began withdrawing from his meddlesome activities in uranium-rich Chad. Why, in the end, we ever decided to displace him, puzzles me. The idealists thought he was a bad man. They’d thought Saddam was a bad man, too, until a Republican administration resolved to do something about him.

But as Buchanan would surely agree, it is not the function of the “world police department” to go hunting for bad guys. The world is full of sinners. The function is rather to know who they are, and what they are up to, and find criteria to decide when one of them has become such a threat to the peace, that he needs taking out.

The Ayatollahs, I said, were worse than Saddam. But Saddam was the easier target. There was a glowing moment, back in 2003–4, when even mullahs were suddenly impressed by Bush’s strange habit, of delivering on his promises, and Iran became downright cooperative. The trick was to freeze that moment in time; not fritter it away in gallant and fatuous nation-building exercises.

“Peace through strength” only works, over time, with an occasional exhibition. Without that, the bad guys are apt to forget that the weapons can be used. Too, as Romans and later Europeans understood on the clear days, one must keep one’s troops in tip-top condition. They need to be battle-ready y’know, at all times.

So now I have begun to depart from the isolationist tendency. The question might fairly be asked, why mess with the world at all? This tends to be asked by idealists. Why not mind our own business, and greet all the world with a smile?

Because, ever since Adam and his mistress were evicted from the Garden, we have found the world to be a dangerous place.

The sparrows currently upon my balconata (helping themselves to the lunch of my finches) perfectly understand what is lost on idealistic people, with their posturing sophistication. They can be pert and daring; they know that making a living takes nerve. But they, and even more the pigeons, who know they are carrying more flesh, share their environment with hawks, and other predators. If you’re small, you can often get yourself ignored. If you’re large, there may be no hiding.

America is big and fat, the juiciest bag the world can offer, even after seven-plus years of Obama. The USA is no longer thirteen little realms of doubtful significance. It has risen to the condition of fight or flight. It is moreover the inheritor, from old Mama Albion (and Mama Gallia, and Mama Hispania, and Mama Italia right through the Middle Ages) of an interest that goes beyond that of any individual nation.

The world is full of pirates, too, and as we have been recently reminded, off the coast of Somalia and in the South China Sea: the freedom of the seas must be “established.” On this analogy, I place everything else. We’re on a planet where the bad guys win, the moment the good guys go off their game.

I feel sorry for the Americans. They did not want the job. But they are stuck with it until they walk away, and jilt all their remaining allies. They did not even want the praise that goes with the uniform, let alone the more frequent contumely. But a man must do what a man must do, to keep the world in order, and in this respect the USA remains the big kid on the block. Either he will deal with the little devils, or they will finally deal with him.

Rudyard Kipling was good on this topic. Read his “White Man’s Burden” for what he actually says. It is addressed to that rising America of 1899, and is reasonably prophetic. Kipling was the Imperial Poet on whom I was myself raised (partly in his home town of Lahore), and as I’ve aged I have realized not only that his prose and verse are remarkably sound, but that his understanding of how the world works borders on the sublime. He is not bloodthirsty or violent by disposition. He takes pleasure in all the variety the world can set before him; on all its open roads. (Read Kim, as I did, again and again.) He is in the best sense cosmopolitan (“almost Jewish”); a Little Englander in no way; and very far from any proclamation of “my country right or wrong.” He knows, too, that there is such a thing as civilization, and that history has many ages. Our own corporate or collective position, is only for a time.

The poem addresses an America embarking upon that difficult, “adult” life, that comes with terrible responsibilities. He foresees the thankless tasks ahead.

In time America, too, will be buried with the other empires. But the funeral has not yet come, and while she lives and breathes, she retains her duties. She must, for the world’s sake, stop licking her wounds, and whining; must keep up our quarrel with the foe.

The world, in all its imperfection, will have empires of one kind or another. Not one will always be a force for good. But there is better and worse, and if we are sane, we will allow that in our time the American power has been a blessing.