Economic and Special Warfare Are Also the Health of the State

Noting impediments to an effective response by the U.S. and especially its European allies to Russian action in Crimea, our friend “rootless” (@root_e), posting at his Tumblr blog krebscycle, blames “conservative economic policies,” and conjures a very “alternative” vision:

Imagine that instead of short sighted, vindictive, and highly subsidized extraction of vigorish from Southern Europe to pay back reckless loans by German and French banks, the EU had funded a vast construction project to build solar and wind generation in the sunny states and connect Europe with high efficiency power lines. The investment would have stimulated manufacturing in Germany and France, created jobs and wealth in the southern rim and reduced European dependence on both Putin’s gas and his blood money.

Mr. r. recommended this post to John Schindler (@20committee) and myself via Twitter following some exchanges on Schindler’s “Understanding the Crimea Crisis,” a much longer piece in which Schindler puts forward a superficially opposing vision, set within what he has elsewhere described as a “return of history.” Under this thesis or paradigm ((…which is, as I have often argued, based in my view on a misstatement of the “end of history” paradigm that it seeks to displace.)), given the extreme undesirability if not effective impossibility of a return to major interstate wars, the protection of American interests in the world must increasingly rely on “Special Warfare,” which Schindler has previously defined as “an amalgam of espionage, subversion, even forms of terrorism to attain political ends without actually going to war in any conventional sense.”

Without taking a position on the technical feasibility of either idea, we can observe that the two contrasting visions share the same central requirement: of coherent or re-cohering state interests overcoming the neoliberal premises of American and European politics for the last generation.

Because rootless’s descriptive emphasis is on what amounts to a vast, continent-spanning public works program in Europe, suggestive of a self-generated second Marshall Plan, this time implemented by the Europeans themselves, it may be identified as “liberal” according to American usages since the administration of Franklin Roosevelt. The alternative term “neoliberal” stands for a competing or corrective stance within liberalism broadly speaking: a resurgence in applied classical liberal, market-centric and “anti-statist” ideology. All of these terms must, however, be understood as course corrections or adjustments in policy, not as absolutes: Indeed, as soon as theorists have accustomed a lay readership to describing Ronald Reagan as any kind of liberal, they often shift the plot again, since it turns out that the man who identified government as the problem presided over a massive expansion of government, much of it comprised of a deficit-financed military build-up. The presidencies of George W Bush and Barack Obama will present similar definitional complexities and contradictions even before we attempt to separate whatever ideological facades or cover stories or official or campaign narratives from policy as implemented and in full context.

For purposes of this discussion, rootless’s vision might be more accurately described as “social democratic,” “social liberal,” or even “economic-democratic” or just “progressive,” ((…although “progressive” has often appeared in the @root_e feed as something close to a curse word.)) but, regardless of terminology, his key implicit premise, and the primary mark of its counterfactuality, is of an effectively German-dominated European super-state already consolidated on a higher organic level. The Europe that could say “no” to Putin, it seems, would be a Europe that had organized not merely as a financialized neo-imperial or neoliberal transnational project, as in its current form: The alternative, non-existent or not yet existent, trans-European state would be a Union worthy of its name, capable both of caring for all its citizens – from Berlin to Athens, to Gibraltar, possibly to London, possibly from Ankara to Rejkjavik – and also of effectively asserting its independent geopolitical interests. One capacity turns out to be dependent on, and to facilitate, the other. Such a Europe would be a Great Power in fact, not just in name and potential. It might also suggest a late, fully elaborated, comparatively benign realization of greater German ambitions, the same ones brought to consecutive catastrophic misbirths under Kaiser Wilhelm II and Führer Adolf Hitler.

It is not my purpose here to examine the reasons why the 20th Century did not turn out and could not have turned out to be the German or European century in any positive sense, even though the continual invocations and re-examinations of events in and around Munich 1938 seem unavoidable for many. That group includes Dr. Schindler, but, though he does insist on the relevance of the 1930s to our era, and is at least as dismissive of the European Union as rootless (Schindler holds the EU to be little more than a “talking shop” as far as geopolitics is concerned), the history to which he primarily returns, and that he claims to see returning, is of the sequel or of the sequel’s sequel. In short, Special Warfare and the competition with Russia strongly evoke the Cold War, not World War II or even its prologue. It is here, however, that the characteristic theoretical and political problem for Schindler and his allies also arises: that their argument and their prescriptions will tend to be only as compelling as Vladimir Putin’s Russia is seen to resemble the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

It seems safe to say that there is no anti-Putinist reflex comparable to the anti-Communism of yesteryear. What was presumed from approximately 1945 to 1989, that in the USSR the USA as leader of “the Free World” faced an “existential” enemy, with the fate of the world in the balance, does not hold for perceptions of the Russian Federation, even if the latter’s inheritance from the USSR does happen to include a technical capacity, among other capacities, to erase human civilization. When the Soviet Union served a client in the Middle East or North Africa, or put down resistance in Eastern Europe, wrongly or rightly it meant something very different to Americans and the West once upon a time than roughly similar actions by Putin’s Russia strike us at this time. In sum, Americans may not, with a few interesting exceptions, spare much affection for Putin or Russia, but Schindler and political-intellectual company cannot depend on mere aversion to make their case for them. Americans searching their posts and op-eds on Ukraine, on Iran, on Syria, and so on, will do so in vain if they expect to find evidence of specific dangers to American life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness rather than mere unsupported presumptions of danger.

This lack of a perceived concrete threat or harm makes it difficult to justify the measures Schindler and even harsher critics of Obama Administration foreign policy typically demand. As we have noted before, and as will be evident in the criticisms that Schindler continually receives from leftists, pacifists, libertarians, and others at all levels of sophistication, any escalation in Special Warfare – including, as above, “even forms of terrorism” – or any development of what Schindler calls a “serious” Special Warfare capacity, immediately equates with contradiction and impairment of the American international project of an ever-expanding “zone of freedom and democracy” governed by post-Nuremberg international law. As ever, the declaration of a “security exception” necessarily implies the subversion of liberal-democratic principle in favor of a supposed necessity, expressed as true realism, the famous “truth!” that the “rough men” know from experience, but that law-obsessed and therefore patriotism-deficient liberals in the end, or when it counts, “can’t handle.”

We do not need to declare ourselves invulnerable to this line of argument in all instances ((Doing so would, for example, require total military disarmament.)) in order to note that it tends to contradict other truths that we also hold, or claim to hold, to be self-evident. It is no accident that writings that strike Schindler with their “elements of truth” betray the marks of fascist and crypto-fascist historiography and cultural criticism. To say so, however, cannot in any truly impartial and open discussion of these matters be taken as an attempt to disqualify. The fascist temptation, among other temptations, was a real temptation or seemingly a live option among many observers in the 1930s, under a world crisis of liberal democracy, and the triumph over the “real-existing fascism” of the national-imperial and militarist states, like the subsequent triumph over Communism, did not occur without a partial but critical internalization of state-collective, military, and even enhanced racialist imperatives by the avowedly anti-fascist, anti-statist, anti-militarist, and anti-collectivist victors of the American-led United Nations alliance.

Let those without historical sin cast the first stones. As a matter of policy concretely, of necessary predicates as well as of inevitable consequences, a similar rule applies now: There will and can be no “serious” augmentation of Special Warfare capacity or, as Schindler also advocates, reinforcement of “conventional capacities,” that would not also both rely upon and produce an equally serious augmentation of the security state, and there will and can be no augmentation of the security state that would not rely upon and produce an augmentation of the state per se against “liberty” interests of all types, from free market neoliberalism to small state republicanism to no-state libertarian anarchism. Schindler’s version of a return of history turns out to be above all a return of particular national (or nation-state or state-nation) interests, a kind of return of the repressed on a global-historical scale. Yet whatever the actual course of future events and decisions, over whatever time frames, in immediate crises or further development of the general crisis of the American-centric international order, a total reversion to the terms of a prior epoch would be undesirable and unnecessary even if practicable or even possible.

rootless’s somewhat socialistic, or social democratic, or social liberal vision seems to revive a different set of old traumas. Both writers insist on versions of the security exception against the main elements of the world historical liberal project in its contemporary form: as the deconstruction of national political-administrative and military power and its simultaneous transfer or devolution to higher and lower, transnational and local, levels. Both rootless and Schindler declare the seeming weakness of the Western states at the current conjuncture to be dangerous for us all. Both provide alternatives in which augmentation of the power of the state at the national or regional level is implicit, for rootless in the primarily economic-political realm, for Schindler in the primarily political-military realm. What neither recognizes, and what each in other ways is somewhat at pains to deny, is the larger history that does not need to return because it never went away, and that reinforces the interdependence or dynamic synergy of complex and seemingly contradictory impulses. The Roosevelt-Marshall welfare-warfare state and the global regime it fought and worked into existence remain intact but under pressure. They still depend on an ability to project beyond themselves, both economically as well as militarily, and both morally as well as practically.

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