Making the Deep State Work

by WILLIAM R. HAWKINS December 6, 2017

The news media has feasted on rumors that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will soon vacate his cabinet post, leaving behind a department that has large gaps in personnel because of the failure of the Trump administration to get its own appointees into place. The narrative feeds the image promoted by the Left of a presidency that doesn't know what it is doing. What is missing, as usual, is any true understanding of what has ailed the State Department for decades. Conservative complaints about "the deep state" are too shallow to be helpful.

There should be a "deep state" at the Federal level, especially at Foggy Bottom, the Pentagon and Langley. The conduct of national security policy needs continuity, professionalism, experience and a firm commitment to American interests that transcends partisanship and special interests. The problem is not structural, it is ideological; what philosophy animates the "deep state?" And should there be an ideology at all in policy areas that require practical problem-solving in a real world where the stakes are so high? The answers to these two questions define the problem: liberalism is the ideology, and it is completely unsuited (by design) to meet the needs of a Great Power like the United States in a contentious world.

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is considered to be one of the most influential thinkers of the modern West. Tragically, when it comes to international relations, that influence has been extremely negative. In his 1795 essay Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch, Kant set out the three principles that have been common to all liberal policy since: disarmament, free trade and world governance. All are aimed at removing the nation-state from the center of global affairs, and shifting the focus of individual allegiance to something other than national citizenship. People are to become "citizens of the world" if the have any higher loyalty at all. In the hands of classical liberal economists, they are simply "consumers" to be satiated with material decadence while devoid of any communal identity.

In the aftermath of the Cold War, this Kantian assault on the nation-state was revived with a flood of tomes about how the institution of central government was being torn down both from above (the United Nations and other supposedly supranational bodies and "norms") and from below by the rise of a nihilistic, self-centered individualism. These two movements were united under "globalism" where people would form new attachments without regard to national citizenship. The transnational corporation and the free movement of people across borders were placed at the apex of "post-modern" human progress.

In his speech to a forum of the U.S. Naval Institute (December 4), Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer recalled the experience of his father, a World War II PT boat skipper. He noted that America in those days had a fabric that brought people together regardless of sociological background. Such national unity today is anathema to liberals.

The stark reality of the world has, however, been far different from the utopian liberal theory. The history of the 19th and 20th centuries should have discredited liberalism, yet its appeal continues into a 21st century where new threats have arisen and old treats have revived. Islamic fanaticism has given millions an alternative identity to the nation-state, but it is based on collective hatred and unrestricted violence. Russian revanchism has led to aggression and conquest (Crimea) in Europe which have paralyzed the Western democracies. China's not-so-peaceful rise has confounded those who thought the way to tame a dictatorship was to make it rich. Social media, which was widely proclaimed to promote peace and understanding by allowing individuals to communicate directly, has created platforms for hate speech, blackmail, conspiracy theories, propaganda and radicalization; some of which has been used by governments and terrorist groups to advance their hostile agendas.

Human nature has made hash of liberalism from its inception. Yet, its "true believers" are enamored of its beautiful notions. They continue to place "hope over history" and act as if the world can be changed with just a bit more effort. If American diplomats just act in the spirit of the Enlightenment, then the new age will materialize.

Appeasement in negotiations and restraint in war also come from Kant. The wars of the French Revolution were in full swing when Kant's Perpetual Peace appeared; and with the rise of Napoleon there would be conflict in Europe (and elsewhere) until 1815. Kant, however, was bent on imagining a world far different from what he saw. He was not as utopian as many of his followers have become; he saw a long road ahead. His argument was about how to get there. The key element was "No state of war with another shall permit such acts of hostility as would make mutual confidence impossible during a future time of peace." Treating the enemy "cruelly" would only embitter them. Kant did not, however, have any strategy for how to get from war to peace against an enemy who did not hold to the same philosophy of restraint. He simply hoped that "reason" would prevail. But who's reason? It is very reasonable to exploit an enemy's weakness to pursue the goal of victory, the basis for establishing "peace" on your own terms.

Liberalism stresses carrots over sticks to promote goodwill. The prime recent example is the Iran nuclear deal. President Barack Obama took the military option off the table, thus Tehran was under no immediate pressure to reach an agreement. The U.S. had to offer massive financial payments and sanctions relief up front before Iran agreed to slow (but not dismantle) its nuclear weapons program; and its missile program was not covered at all. Tehran welcomed the economic boost because of its involvement in military operations in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Restraint and appeasement did not win Iranian friendship, only showed a weakness in Washington that could be exploited across the region. The agreement was formally announced in July, 2015 and Russia intervened militarily in Syria in support of Iran two months later.  

A major refutation of the Kantian notion is World War II in the Pacific. From the Bataan Death March to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, total war was waged without mercy on both sides. Yet, today, the U.S. and Japan are firm allies against the threats emanating from North Korea and China. This is what alliances and alignments are really about; not academic theories but concrete common interests. And what provides a firm foundation for U.S. diplomacy is the knowledge that America will do whatever it takes to win. Allies are thus assured and enemies deterred. Liberals cannot be counted on in either regard because they place other "values" above success----even deeming success itself to be of dubious philosophical worth. This produces doubts among allies and opportunities for enemies.

 A source of the rumors that Secretary Tillerson may not be long in his job is the tweet President Donald Trump sent out admonishing Tillerson for trying to open direct talks with North Korea, which would be futile at this stage of the confrontation. Despite claims to the contrary, little has been done to convince Pyongyang or Beijing that this time will be different. Bold statements, increased sanctions and shows of force have all come and gone before without halting North Korea's development of an unacceptable intercontinental nuclear strike capability. Kim Jung Un still seems confident that no decisive action will be taken against him. China is not so sure, and has been taking new measures to fend off an escalation that would truly force the issue. North Korea's launch of a new missile shortly after a Chinese envoy had visited Pyongyang indicates that this diplomatic effort has run its course. Indeed, former President Obama was in China on the day Pyongyang launched the missile. The Kantians in the media, Congress, and some parts of the administration must be ignored. Actions speak louder than words, and it is time for America to be heard loud and clear.

The calculation in North Korea (and Iran) that developing new weapons to threaten neighbors and the United States is the way to protect their regime must be turned on its head. Being a menace to others (and especially to America), is what raises the stakes to a level that justifies a military response. The new calculation is subject to proof if it is to replace the current equation. Military action of some sort will he necessary to force North Korea to "do our will" and disarm---- and to convince China that the U.S. intends to maintain itself as the world's preeminent power. Otherwise, instability and aggression will only increase going forward, with a much higher price tag (in both blood and treasure) to buy security in the future.

As we look at the problems facing our country today, Kant should not be in our vocabulary.

William R. Hawkins is a consultant specializing in international economic and national security issues. He is a former economics professor and Republican Congressional staff member.


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