Steyn: “Too big to win.”

Mark Steyn doesn’t make arguments in any recognizable sense of that phrase. He plays, as on a saxophone, non-conceptual, ironic riffs, in a shapeless, self-indulgent, half-stoned improvisation that just goes on and on and nauseates more than it pleases and leaves the reader with more intellectual indigestion than intellectual clarity. That said, in this very long piece (3,000 words), if you can get through it, he is making worthwhile points, capturing the absurdity of the world’s greatest military power which refuses ever to win.

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Derek C. writes:

Let’s go back about 10 years and check out this 2001 piece from Steyn, where he advocates the very policy he now sneers at:

… Afghanistan needs not just food parcels, but British courts and Swiss police and Indian civil servants and American town clerks and Australian newspapers. So does much of the rest of the region.

America has prided itself on being the first non-imperial superpower, but the viability of that strategy was demolished on Sept. 11. For its own security, it needs to do what it did to Tojo’s Japan and Hitler’s Germany after the war: Systematically dismantle them and rebuild them as functioning members of the civilized world. Kipling called it ”the white man’s burden”—the ”white man” bit will have to be modified in the age of Colin Powell and Condi Rice, and it’s no longer really a ”burden,” not in cost-benefit terms. Given the billions of dollars of damage done to the world economy by Sept. 11, massive engagement in the region will be cheaper than the alternative. If neo-colonialism makes you squeamish, give it some wussified Clinto-Blairite name like ”global community outreach.” Tony Blair, to his credit, has already outlined a 10-year British commitment to rebuilding Afghanistan under a kind of UN protectorate. We can do it for compassionate reasons (the starving hordes beggared by incompetent thug regimes) or for selfish ones (our long-term security), but do it we must.

LA replies:

While Steyn is typically outrageously dishonest in not taking responsibility for former positions of his that he’s now changed or abandoned, I don’t see this old piece of his as necessarily contradicting what he’s now saying. Then he was calling for the complete American takeover and makeover of Afghanistan. Now he is lamenting our failure to take forceful measures to defeat our enemies. These two arguments could be seen as complements of each other, not as opposites.

Leonard D. writes:

Personally, I like reading Steyn; I like humor and wordplay, and he always delivers. However, you are surely right that his style is impressionistic and he leaves no intellectual clarity. Put another way: he sees clearly enough to criticize incisively, but only negatively. He proposes no positive program; he only (deservedly) mocks failure. Even negative criticism has value, but it is far less worthwhile than positive prescription. Telling a man not to do something doesn’t tell him what to do.

Steyn’s problem is the same as that of all of the mainstream conservatives. He is seeking to have influence, and that requires being respectable. To be respectable requires being political correct. But being politically correct precludes discussion of many topics. The failure of “nation building” is one of these topics.

In this particular case, the problem is not that the United States is “too big to win”. It is that the U.S. refuses to win, because winning a peace requires ruling a people, controlling them effectively from highest to humblest, and using unlimited force to achieve that end. But ruling people is colonialism, which is racism, which is the greatest evil, and therefore reviled by all goodthinking people. And using force (much less unlimited force) against innocents is collateral damage and thus murder, also reviled. Etc.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 22, 2011 01:02 PM | Send

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