These days the logic of statements made by our politicians and government officials often defies reason. Take this statement, made by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, justifying the cuts the Trump Administration wants Congress to make in the U.S. State Department’s budget.
Clearly the level of spending that the State Department has been undertaking, particularly in this past year, is simply not sustainable, Mr. Tillerson said. “As time goes by, there will be fewer military conflicts that the U.S. will be directly engaged in.
If Mr. Tillerson were the Secretary of Defense the internal logic of this statement would be immediately plausible, as an explanation for cuts in the Defense Department’s budget. Even in that case it might still be wrong when all relevant facts are considered. (Facts that have a bearing on force readiness for future conflicts, for example.) But the notion “soft power” tools become less relevant simply because direct U.S. involvement in military conflicts declines, erroneously assumes that soft power deployments are simply an adjunct of military intervention. This is true if diplomacy is simply war by other means. But can this simply the case for the people of the United States?
To assume that it is makes no sense in principle, much less when the facts of America’s actual experience as a nation are taken into account. In principle, we are a people committed to rightful liberty. War inclines society toward dictatorship, eroding liberty, and eventually providing ample pretexts for restricting it. Though wars can be good for corporations like Exxon, which deal in resources vital to our military effectiveness, for the nation’s engaged in them, they stimulate generally profitable trade and commerce more in their aftermath than their duration.
Bernard Baruch was right to see tremendous opportunities for trade and commerce in the ruined cities of Europe at the end of WWII. Reconstruction is good for business, especially for the only developed nation with its economic capacities mostly intact. But for nations whose oil or agricultural fields are lit by fires burning away their produce; or whose prospects are ruined by laws that cut them off from markets for their trade; or which their own military attacks have, denuded both of customers and purchasing power, ongoing war may be an economic disaster.
These days it’s easy to forget that the nations WWII laid in ruins might still be afflicted with them if the United States had not resolved to use its relatively intact base of production to help them rebuild. Or if we had been unwilling to invest part of the increased revenue reconstruction generated for us, to induce other nations to join in agreements for international cooperation that improved their prospects for success.
Stupidly anti-America leftist screeds have helped us to forget that those international agreements also included institutions intended to help European countries surrender their control of colonies they could not hope to control without continual wars, wars that wasted resources needed to assure economic, social, and political stability, especially in Western Europe.
In the aftermath of WWII, the United States enjoyed a global superiority in “hard power” unparalleled in human experience. Dramatic memories of our direct involvement in wars in Korea, Vietnam and eventually the Middle East, lead people to forget that those wars were punctuation marks in sentences and paragraphs written with “soft power”, on pages of history notable mainly for the unheard of progress of nations around the world. These nations included our erstwhile foes as well as nations determined to be our adversaries (China and the Soviet Union, for example.)
Our “soft power” efforts were not always skillful; they were often misguided; they were sometimes dramatically unsuccessful. They certainly did not satisfy the utopian visions of our best hopes, or childish fantasies of unalloyed national selflessness. But, for a time, they were sufficient to keep the selfish ambitions with which great power always tempts mere human will, from turning our successful war to rescue the world from brutal tyrants into a military project aimed at imposing brutal tyranny of our own.
I have often spoken out against supposedly “humanitarian” soft power deployments that are actually instances in which we use the American taxpayers’ money simply to fund the corrupt ideological agendas or class ambitions of elites at war with liberty. I am proud to have been part of the team that implemented President Reagan’s decision to withhold U.S. funding from the UN. But Secretary Tillerson’s statement implying that “hard power” deployments are what mainly drive, or ought to drive, our uses of “soft power”, appears to abandon the prudent good will that serves America best. Ours is a commercial, constitutional republic. Our best interests are served by winning the peace as well as the wars.
The natural human desire to live contentedly in peace is the great mainstay of ordered liberty. Though they were not always competent and successful, America’s post WWII leaders purported to reached toward the what Abraham Lincoln concluded to be the proper goal of statesmanship for a free people: “a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” “Hard power” and the will to use it, are surely appropriate as required to deal with those who disturb the peace. But a people determined to sustain their rightful liberty cannot rely primarily upon military means. For they cherish peace, as the first law of humanity’s good nature requires.
But the circumstances of human life are constantly changing—partly as the result of our human capacity to choose wrong over right. In consequence of this capacity, the way that maintains the peace must be constantly renegotiated. This process of perpetual renegotiation, in view of changing circumstance, is rightly the core preoccupation of our State Department. Even when fewer military conflicts loom, vigilant statesmanship must incessantly recreate the means of sustaining that process, or else, like a cancer in remission, war will inevitably recur.
Properly deployed, the resources used for such statesmanship are, as it were, the seeds of increase. This, in striking contrast to resources dedicated to war, which are either consumed in battle or due to be replaced by others, liable to be more expensive, but made necessary by our potential adversaries’ creative development of tools that must be countered with increased sophistication. Secretary Tillerson, and his CEO, would do well to think this through. For defense, we should spend whatever we must. But In and for the peace, we should invest whatever we can. Doing so will not only safeguard the bountiful blessings of liberty for us, but for our posterity as well—just as our Constitution intends.