[An Open Letter to Radio Pundit Ed Morrissey]
If you don't mind a friendly note from a listener...
I almost spilled my coffee when driving home from work, listening to you filling in for Sheila Liaugminas on Relevant Radio the Catholic radio network. You and Andrew Malcolm were reinforcing the mainstream spin on the Trump-Putin summit, and you mentioned the need to check Russian imperialism.
It was the tone that got me, as if everyone knows Russian imperialism is a self-evident scourge akin to global warming, the national debt, and the continued popularity of Justin Bieber.
I thought: wow. Talking about Russian imperialism is the modern version of talking about what fine clothes the Emperor is wearing in that H.C. Andersen fairy tale, when in truth he is walking around as naked as a character in a Stormy Daniels movie. In both cases, there are many courtiers and cronies interested in maintaining the state's interpretation of a situation as opposed to, well, reality.
Given that reality is presumably relevant (on Relevant Radio no less), my guess is that if the hypothetical disinterested Martian were to visit our planet and assess international relations, he would come to the conclusion that it is the United States that acts like the imperialist. After all,
- Russia does not have over 100 military bases spread around the world. In fact, it maintains a grand total of two outside its own borders.
- Russia did not unilaterally withdraw from the ABM treaty. That would have been the United States in 2002.
- Russia dissolved the Warsaw Pact and moved on from the Cold War, while the United States has maintained and expanded NATO. In so doing, it broke promises not to position bases near the Russian border.
- Russia watched the US intervene in the Ukraine, overthrow its democratically elected president, and then ramp up military assistance to its puppet government. To be sure, this event led to Russia's bloodless coup in Crimea in 2014. This response was unfortunate but, I think, more moral than US-instigated bloody “regime changes” in Serbia, Iraq, Libya, and Syria.
- Russia's military budget is about 10 percent of the US’s. In fact, recent Trumpian increases in the defense budget exceeded the Russian military budget in toto.
You may disagree with this analysis, but would it be unreasonable for some of the logicians among us to conclude the anti-imperialist had become the imperialist? After all, becoming your enemy in order to defeat it was the admonition of the young William F. Buckley in 1952 in the Catholic journal Commonweal that, in order to defeat the totalitarian threat posed by the Soviet Union, the US itself had to become totalitarian.1
The social and political forces shaping the United States in its first decades understood the deleterious effects standing armies and foreign entanglements had on liberty in the home front. Looking for “monsters to destroy” makes us less free, enriches connected classes, and centralizes power. Pre-Buckley, Old Right conservatives used to appreciate how an expanding warfare state breeds the welfare state and would not be surprised with the growth of government we have today.
Second, it bothers — a lot — when Catholic media (including Relevant Radio) seemingly aligns Catholic beliefs with neoconservative talking points. The looming specter of peace — to say nothing of the Prince of Peace — terrifies the military-industrial complex and those who would be enriched by it, which by now must include half of the Washington, DC, metropolitan statistical area. The wailing and gnashing and calls for Trump's impeachment (and even his head in that Portland "art" exhibit) are by bought parties on the left and right (McCain and Clinton, George Will and Wolf Blitzer) whose livelihoods depend on Cold War II, and they're aghast that Trump won't allow it to come about.
In the aftermath of Trump-Putin, one might expect Catholic radio to restate the teaching of Christus Vincit, Christus Regnat, Christus Imperat and to aspire to be more than Catholic versions of Fox or CNN. But that might mean noting Russia and the United States control 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons and that they are, right now, pointed at each other's population centers. Dialogue, understanding, interdependency, and (especially) trade between these countries are crucial to humanity’s survival.
That Trump gets this and would act on it, very much against the zeitgeist, strikes me as heroic, representing — if only in this instance — he is striving to enter through the narrow gate.
In any event, you will be glad to know I did not spill my coffee and arrived home safely. And while I didn’t see any evidence of Russian imperialism on my trek, I know my cell phone reported my movements to nearby cell towers, my phone calls and purchases that day were all recorded, and my face was scanned by multiple cameras in the public square. That the national security state is alive, well, and growing is evidence of imperialism of a different kind.
My guess is that it would rather we be more concerned about Russia and its nationalist president. And, Justin Bieber too.