Rough Transcript

Tooley: Hello this is Mark Tooley, editor of Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy, with another episode of Marksism, with fellow editor and fellow Mark(c), Marc LiVecche. Today we’re covering three scintillating pieces from Providence this week, one on the Israel and Hamas conflict, another on a new book about the Iraq War, and thirdly, one by yours truly on the New Whiggery. But starting with Robert Nicholson’s Jesus and Hamas, our friend and collaborator Robert makes the point that many Christian critics of Israel’s defensive actions against Hamas’ rockets have pointed to higher casualties in Gaza among the Palestinians, and superficially drawing the conclusion that therefore Israel is the primary villain in the process. Robert points out, understandably, that the conflict is much more complicated than that and that true friends of the Palestinians and those who are truly interested in Christian wisdom will understand that the Palestinians need leadership other than the Hamas militants. But Marc LiVecche, what do you say?

LiVecche: Yeah, I say exactly that. I wrote so much in effect I think last week an article on proportionality in the Hamas-Israel conflict. And it’s exactly that. It’s been interesting to observe Christian, and other, responses to this conflict, because it has stood out so starkly that simply because Israel is more effective at fighting, they are by default the bad guys. So, I think that was preordained, people who see them as bad guys because they can punch harder than Hamas would have seen them as bad guys no matter what. I mean, it’s a lack of understanding of well frankly on a broad scale just how war works, but also important ideas like discrimination and proportionality and how these things play out in wars. You can see Israeli intention by their sometimes overwhelming efforts at discrimination. You can see Hamas’ intentions by their utter disregard for discrimination, even for their own. Hamas rockets have killed Israeli Arabs as well as Israeli Jews, and landed short and killed Gazan Arabs. So, that’s been interesting. I think Robert’s underlining of the fact that what Palestinians need is effective leadership, and that’s simple to say, and I know Robert knows the complexity of helping them get more leaders, because they vote these people in. So, which again points to the idea that simply having a vote isn’t sufficient. We have to find a way to support the Palestinians in such a way that they feel that they can disabuse themselves of the kinds of leaders they have without fearing for their own and their family’s security, which I strongly suspect, and Robert suggests, is a part of the problem.

Tooley: Well, the second piece we’ll discuss is my own about the New Whiggery, in which I propose a new sensibility rooted in the Whig tradition, which actually is simply the wider Anglo-American democratic tradition of ordered liberty. Of course, Whiggery emerged in the wake of the English Civil War in the mid-1600s. It culminated with the Glorious Revolution of 1688, in which royalism was defeated in place of constitutional monarchy. But as I define Whiggery, it’s a suspicion of centralized power, it’s a jealous regard for the liberties of the people, it’s a special rapport for dissenters in society and for religious liberty. Although suspicious of power, it affirms the rightful vocation of government and it affirms social and political reform. So, in contrast to so much of today’s political conversation, Whiggery is actually relatively optimistic. It is not delusional about human nature; it is rooted in a Christian anthropology, specifically an Anglo-Protestant anthropology, and even more specifically, a Calvinist Anglo-Protestant sensibility. But nonetheless, it does believe in progress and in the potential for a brighter future. So, this is proposing a new way of thinking. Several of us convened at a dinner here in Washington, with some primarily young thinkers, and we’re going to have further conversation about the New Whiggery. I was the elder in that discussion, and perhaps Marc LiVecche you were the second oldest in the room. Any thoughts on the New Whiggery?

LiVecche: Yeah, close behind you, Mark. Not too far back. It’s a very attractive platform. I love the description of it. I think the suspicion of crown and court, and it’s all sort of red-blooded Americanism, which might be odd because it is, well I guess it originally is American. It’s an early import. I think there’s a lot to be said about it. I think it captures the sentiments of many of us, hopefully at least both sides of the narrow middle that I think are discontent with what seem to be the available options. I think some of the conversations that happened there at this first meeting are important. What are we for policy wise? How will these manifest in political decision making? At what point do we start to discover that the aspirational descriptions that you’ve just had, which are invigorating, at what point do those become divisive? Because one of the things maybe a lot of people will say yes, I’m for that. But I think as we start talking further, all the people that are for that will tighten up a little bit. So, it’ll be interesting to see how that happens. One question that our readers might have that I’ll throw back at you is that we’ve got Christian Realism, so why do we need the New Whiggery? What in your mind frames some of the differences, I think overlapping, but what are some of the differences between the two? Why a new expression of something?

Tooley: Well, as we discussed, a New Whiggery is similar to Christian Realism in that it’s not a political ideology per se; it’s a sensibility or a perspective. So, as you note that one could be right of center or left of center and still be a Christian Realist and a New Whig, perhaps one key difference is Christian Realism is for Christians where Whiggery is not specifically a religious movement. It does emerge from a particular religious and cultural situation in history, but Whiggery is, I use the word inclusive and inviting and does not require a particular theological perspective. Do you agree?

LiVecche: Yeah, I think that’s right. I think it was a little bit of a softball question. I think that’s part of the attractiveness there is it gets us over some of the awkwardness of, you know, maybe looking at some of our friends at allied institutions like Tikvah or Mosaic and saying oh, they’re good Christian Realists, because point of fact, they’re actually not. This gives us a new sort of category maybe to begin describing some shared, deeply shared, aspirations. So, that’s nice. And I don’t think you have to worry about using PC terms like inclusive, because you’ve already said that our meetings are going to be called “Whig Whams,” and there’s all sorts of appropriation all over the place. So, nobody is going to accuse us of being too PC.

Tooley: So, perhaps the New Whiggery can walk hand in hand with Christian Realism down the same glorious pathway?

LiVecche: I think that’s right. And Jewish Realism and all sorts of other realisms as well. So, yeah, it’ll be interesting to see, and anything that involves a wig I’m all for.

Tooley: We’ll look forward to more Whig action in the future. Meanwhile, our final article we’re taking a look at is by our ongoing contributor Keith Pavlischek, himself a US marine veteran, about the New York Time’s Robert Draper’s new book about the Iraq War. And it’s not a polemic, it seems to be a judicious historical overview, and Keith treats it I think favorably and fairly, opening up with a quote from Saint Augustine, which I just have to share verbatim. According to Augustine, “We do not seek peace in order to be at war, but we go to war that we may have peace. Be peaceful therefore and warring, so that you may vanquish those whom you war against and bring them to prosperity of peace.” So, on that note, Keith shares Robert Draper’s perspective that the Iraq War was not based on lies. In fact, it was entered into with lofty intent and genuine belief in weapons of mass destruction that were deployable in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. And also, the conviction in the Bush Administration was that there needed to be a viable democracy in the Arab Mid East as a model for others, and that Iraq was believed to be right for that possibility. But this book draws the conclusion that, without the conviction of weapons of mass destruction, the crusade for democracy almost certainly would not have taken place. Yet tragically, the preparations for the occupation were woefully inadequate. And since there was social chaos almost from the start after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. But Marc LiVecche, all kinds of tragedy and paradox here; perfect for review by a Christian Realist.

LiVecche: You said the word tragedy and paradox and right for review by a Christian Realist, and that’s exactly it. I had breakfast with Pavlischek this morning and we discussed the book. We discussed his own experiences in Iraq, as he says, as part of the non-planning for phase four operations. And for anybody who cares deeply about our international neighbors and about the just expression of American power, can’t help but read, I suspect this book but certainly Pav’s analysis of this book, without comprehending the deep tragedy. Exactly as you say. In Shakespearean terms, the tragic hero is somebody who has marvelous potentials and great virtues, who end up either misusing those virtues or overemphasizing them in disregard of certain realities, or what have you. It’s noble aspirations gone terribly wrong to great catastrophe, and that seems a fairly adept description of what’s happened. What I think is so heartbreaking is you have these idealistic aspirations, the Freedom Agenda of bringing democracy to Iraq, and then other lesser but still noble aspirations like restructuring the US military for a new kind of fight, not realizing that the fight that’s just been vested upon us isn’t going to be this new kind of fighting. It’s going to require the larger footprints that we’re trying to get away from, on and on and on and on. You have these noble aspirations that forget all about power politics and the way interests and human sin really work. Decades upon decades of human behaviors shaped by the tyrant in Iraq and those types of characteristics that have been developed throughout his tyranny are not going to be easily dispensed with. And you’ve got to take those into account. There was this aspiration to have sort of low-intensity conflict. And Pav was joking this morning that low-intensity conflict is like a ham and eggs breakfast. It’s low-intensity for the chicken, but it’s high-intensity for the pig. And you have to grasp that. You have to grasp certain bitter facts that even as you try to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, you’re probably going to have to go in with the aspiration of being known as the biggest tribe. We were laughing and asking what is the number one book that somebody ought to have read before going into Iraq, and we agreed almost simultaneously it’s Mario Puzo, right. You need to read The Godfather because he was a thug and he created a society of thugs and thug mindedness. If not outright thugs, just people who don’t know what it’s like to share power, to allow for division, and so, it was bound to be broken from the beginning. And that doesn’t mean it was pre-determined. Our noble aspirations probably could have still been met if we made different kinds of decisions and listened to different people along the way. There are a number of good people who probably understood better than the decision makers what was happening. Condi Rice probably had a role there. At least later on in the conflict, John Kelly, James Mattis, Petraeus, they understood some things; their desires weren’t always met. So, it’s a tragedy. But Pav doesn’t throw anybody under the bus. He acknowledges, I don’t know if he acknowledged it in the article, he acknowledged it at breakfast, but President Bush’s surge was one of the most incredibly courageous presidential decisions in history. And he mad it because, finally, he believed that this was the right thing to do. So, there were always opportunities for fixing the problem, but it looks like in the end, it was a tragedy and tragedy prevailed.

Tooley: On that somber note, Marc LiVecche, thank you for another episode of Marksism. Until next week, bye-bye.

LiVecche: Take care.