Let Me Know Just How Much I’m Missing-Face The Nation’s Interview With Defense Secretary James Mattis

Here’s a May 28th, 2017 interview with the Secretary about current American foreign policy being coordinated through the Departments of Defense and State, under the direction of the President (it still feels a little strange to write….President Trump):

My takeaways below.

  1. Regarding ISIS: ‘Accelerate’ confrontation and engage ISIS where they are, ‘clearing’ them once engaged and isolated (no longer allowing them either maintain territory, disperse and/or regroup).  Let the people on the ground pursue this strategy with a fair amount of latitude. ***As to the psychological, ideological, social, political and religious reasons individuals seem to be joining ISIS…from Molenbeek all the way to Raqqa, worry about that later, I guess.  No more territory and the legitimacy/revenue that comes with territory, seems to be the current plan regarding ISIS, which will require more resources.
  2.  Regarding Turkey’s NATO membership and internal pressures from the Kurdish PKK (Kurdish [Communist] militiamen who are Turkish citizens fighting ISIS), it seems Mattis is more committed to NATO obligations despite Erdogan’s autocratic moves.  The fact that Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish militias/leadership have been primary anti-ISIS combatants, means that Kurds should probably expect to receive some arms/logistical/tactical support during the fight against ISIS, but should probably expect to fend for themselves on any grander scale/later on.
  3. North Korea: While maintaining the DMZ, and honoring South Korean obligations, consulting Japanese leadership and leveraging Chinese influence, the goal is to try and hold the North Korean regime to some account in continuing the process of marrying ICBM technology with nuclear capability to fulfill its presumed ideological supremacy/destiny.  This will also be an attempt to reassert more of a leadership role for American hard and soft power in the region, while trying to deny the North Korean regime’s economic channels.
  4. Try and deal with Russia as it is, which is to say, Russian leadership continues a divide and conquer strategy in Georgia/Ukraine, and also continues the cold logic and vague threat of force with former Soviet satellites in the Baltics, testing the resolve of European and Western leadership and organization.  They’re not playing nice and pursuing a deeply anti-Western strategy (low birth-rates and Russian nationalism is being solidified around an assertive, kleptocratic regime heavily reliant on natural resources).
  5. NATO is not going to be abandoned, but it probably won’t hurt to have members pony-up some dough to realize the fundamental mission of security NATO offers to its members.  You may not need to change the by laws, but let’s make sure the members have reasonable skin in the game and review the membership rules from time to time.

Domestically, I suppose the plan is to maintain as much political/cultural unity in the American Republic as possible (a serious issue, indeed), while reaffirming American alliances abroad around this basic strategy.

Interestingly, Dickerson asks Mattis about Iran, and why post-1979 Iranian revolutionaries always seem to have a hand in all kinds of guns/money/terrorist activity throughout the Middle-East, so often aligning against American interests (Hizbollah in Lebanon, current uprisings in Yemen, meddling in Israel/Palestine etc.).

Mattis attributes this to the nature of their 1979 Islamic revolution, the beliefs and ideals of the people who grabbed and still maintain power in Iran (suppressing political dissent).

This reminded me that some in the West and the Middle-East will argue exactly the same about moral legitimacy since the American revolution (some with better reasons and understanding than others).  Why does America (and not so much Canada, Australia etc.) go around and keep trying to re-make the world in its image?

Isn’t it all just morally relativistic, anyways, man?

And more broadly: Do moral relativism, value pluralism and all manner of modern liberal projects run aground upon the rocks of nihilism?

Correspondence here.

Kelley Ross responds to a correspondent on Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism, while discussing John Gray as well:

‘Now, I do not regard Berlin’s value pluralism as objectionable or even as wrong, except to the extent that it is irrelevant to the MORAL issue and so proves nothing for or against liberalism. Liberalism will indeed recommend itself if one wishes to have a regime that will respect, within limits, a value pluralism. I have no doubt that respecting a considerable value pluralism in society is a good thing and that a nomocratic regime that, mostly, leaves people alone is morally superior to a teleocratic regime that specifies and engineers the kinds of values that people should have. However, the project of showing that such a regime IS a good thing and IS morally superior is precisely the kind of thing that Gray decided was a failure.

Thus, I believe Gray himself sees clearly enough that a thoroughgoing “value pluralism” would mean that the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini is just as morally justified as the regime of Thomas Jefferson. Gray prefers liberalism (or its wreckage) for the very same reason that the deconstructionist philosopher Richard Rorty prefers his leftism: it is “ours” and “we” like it better. Why Gray, or Rorty, should think that they speak for the rest of “us” is a good question. ‘

and about providing a core to liberalism:

‘Why should the state need a “sufficient rational justificaton” to impose a certain set of values? The whole project of “rational justification” is what Gray, and earlier philosophers like Hume, gave up on as hopeless. All the state need do, which it has often done, is claim that its values are favored by the majority, by the General Will, by the Blood of the Volk, or by God, and it is in business.’

And that business can quickly lead to ever-greater intrusion into our lives:

‘J.S. Mill, etc., continue to be better philosophers than Berlin or Gray because they understand that there must be an absolute moral claim in the end to fundamental rights and negative liberty, however it is thought, or not thought, to be justified. Surrendering the rational case does not even mean accepting the overall “value pluralism” thesis, since Hume himself did not do so. ‘

Are libertarians the true classical liberals?  Much closer to our founding fathers?

What Henry Kissinger still has to offer:

On Burkean Conservatism:

‘The billiard table is a seductive analogy. But in real foreign policy, the billiard balls do not react only to physical impact. They are also guided by their own cultural inheritances: their histories, instincts, ideals, their characteristic national approaches to strategy, in short, their national values. A realist foreign policy needs a strong value system to guide it through the inherent ambiguities of circumstance. Even Bismarck, the supreme realist, emphasized the ultimate moral basis of realist statesmanship: “The best a statesman can do is to listen carefully to the footsteps of God, get ahold of the hem of His cloak and walk with Him a few steps of the way.’

and a partial look at ideas underlying his multipolar vision:

‘The distinction between idealism and realism rejects the experience of history. Idealists do not have a monopoly on moral values; realists must recognize that ideals are also part of reality. We will be less frequently disillusioned if we emphasize a foreign policy designed to accumulate nuance rather than triumph through apocalyptic showdowns, and our values will benefit over the longer term.’

Related On This Site: Isaiah Berlin, as a youth fled a well-integrated family of Latvian Jews to Britain (for his life), subsequently spending more time with Marx than any man should…but also Mill, is value pluralism a response…or does it just lead to the same relativism and nihilism?: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

John Gray is criticizing many claims to progress in ethics and politics in the Western World, with a heavy Nietzschean influence (man is still capable of great barbarism & achievement) Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Robert Kagan At Brookings: ‘The Twilight Of the Liberal World Order’

Some thoughts on Fukuyama and Leo Strauss: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

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