< meta name="DC.Date.Valid.End" content="20050825"> Amendment Nine: Sans Provincial

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Sans Provincial

Everyone's talking about our inevitable bail out from Iraq. John Robb weighs in with this sobering statement of the problem:
The United States is losing the moral conflict with Iraq's guerrillas. The US President's support among Americans has dropped to the lowest levels since Richard Nixon and opposition groups are becoming more strident and popular.
Robb then traces the hot points on the moral conflict back to a central handicap which our military was sandbagged with: isolation. He argues that isolation caused all the major blunders: the belief in bad intel, the ad hoc military planning post invasion, the politicization of military plans, etc. Here, I agree with John Robb, but with a slightly different twist.

Bernard Bailyn makes what I consider a crucial point about Americans, how they view power, and what American power truly looks like. In what is surely to become a classic on America's founding generation, To Begin the World Anew, Bailyn contrasts portraits of our founders with portraits of their contemporary peers in England. He contrasts the homes of our founders with those of their European peers. He drives home the very vivid reality of America's exceeding provincialism during those days. The starkest example is Roger Sherman's portrait, as compared to his sculpture in Statuary Hall in the Capitol building.

But Bailyn doesn't just start with the contrast, he makes it clear that this provincial state of existence freed the minds of the founders. He quotes Madison:
Is it not the glory of the people of America that whilst they have paid a decent regard tot he opinions of former times and other nations, they have not suffered a blind veneration for antiquity, for custom, or for names to overrule the suggestions of their own good sense, the knowledge of their own situation, and the lessons of their own experience?
Or as Bailyn himself states of the founders:
They attacked head on the overrefined, the overelaborated, dogmatic metropolitan formulas in political thought, challenging assumptions that only idiots, they were indeed told, would question.
In other words, though provincial, creative. And the metropolitan formulas, though sophisticated, rigid.

I agree with Robb that isolation caused most of the blunders committed by America in Iraq. But this is a special type of isolation. It is the same isolation our founders saw in their sophisticated European counterparts. The same isolation which they were repulsed by. Isolation caused by the metropole. A professional military run by professional bureaucrats and instructed by professional politicians. Without provincial clarification, Americas leaders will always be isolated in this way, regardless which party they come from.