The editors discuss the legacy of Colin Powell, Marc LiVecchhe and Daniel Strand’s discussion on the just war tradition and prudential considerations, and a 75-year-old editorial where Reinhold Niebuhr turns against Henry Wallace.

Rough Transcript

Mark Tooley: Hello, this is Mark Tooley, editor of Providence: A Journal of Christianity and American Foreign Policy with yet another episode of Marksism with fellow editors and fellow Mark’s, Mark LiVecche and Mark Melton reviewing several pieces from Providence this week. Marc LiVecche will share an exchange he had with Providence contributor Dan Strand, with some thoughts on Just War teaching, a topic of endless fascination. Mark Melton will discuss a post he put up on Providence from Reinhold Neibuhr’s “Christianity and Crisis” magazine from 75 years ago addressing former Vice President Henry Wallace, who was a nearly strident advocate or apologist for Stalin after World War Two which Niebuhr would, of course, critique ultimately. And then, finally, I will discuss the death and funeral legacy, especially as it pertains to Iraq, of Colin Powell, former Secretary of State, Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff but Marc LiVecche we’ll start with you. We hosted, we meaning Providence, hosted our annual Christianity and National Security conference last week with the students from over a dozen colleges and seminaries. Both you and Dan Strand spoke on just for teachings but you and Dan also had a distinct exchange if you’d like to share with us.

Marc LiVecche: You mean the distinct exchange at the conference or on the podcast?

Mark Tooley: On the podcast or whichever you prefer to share.

Marc LiVecche: Podcasts!People can click on it then. Dan Strand and I are doing a series I hope everybody knows that we’re calling True North. This is a play on the idea in military circles of having a moral compass or an azimuth as a way to know where you ought to be heading morally and ethically. And we’re doing an overview of the Just War traditions, sort of Just War 101 and we’ve gotten to this point, the prudential criteria, the use ad bellum category, you said bellum being when is it right to go to war, and has broken, as I think people hopefully by now know, into two general sub-categories of the deontological or what are the primary things, these are the things that have to be in place before you can go to war. And then there’s another set of potential side constraints, things like probability of success, last resort declaration of war and sort of a proportionality of ends. In this latest episode Strand and I discussed proportionality of ends, as well as probability of success, proportionality of ends simply means you have to be able to predict or you have to have a good case for believing that the good you will achieve from the successful completion of your war will override the negative consequences or the harms that will be done by the successful completion of the war, as well as to consider the reverse. If you do not pursue the successful conclusion of what would be a rightly justified war, what will be the goods that would come up that compared to the harms that would come up that. This idea of aiming at a successful completion of a war, then ties into the second category of probability of success. You shouldn’t start a war, generally speaking, if really there’s no possible chance of achieving the successful war aims. Otherwise, you’re probably just killing people and breaking things. Ultimately, for no good reason, there are exceptions to that, but as a general rule that would be the policy and that kind of ties into what we’ll talk about later with the Powell doctrine, but these are just some of the credential side constraints to help think wisely about when it’s ready to fight.

Mark Tooley: Well, as you say, speaking of Powell and of war, he was statesman and soldier, a Vietnam War veteran who rose to become, obviously, a general, Ronald Reagan’s National Security Advisor in the 1980s, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under the first President Bush during the Persian Gulf War, and later Secretary of State during the George W. Bush administration at the time of 9/11 and the launch of the Afghan and Iraq Wars. My column in Providence notes that he was a lifelong Episcopalian. Son of Jamaican immigrants and though the son of Caribbean immigrants had the beliefs and convictions and stature of the old WASP establishment and seem to embody the Episcopal-Anglican understanding of and appreciation for power and national responsibility. He certainly was, although he probably never used the term, was a Christian Realist: practical, pragmatic let’s do the most good that is possible, but not be soaring or idealistic in our goals. He is, of course, of late and most remembered for his legacy with the Iraq war, having embraced the narrative of weapons of mass destruction which he later lamented and yet, with the collapse of Afghanistan, I suggest the argument could be made, maybe, ultimately, it will be made, that while Afghanistan was supposedly the good war, the regime we helped construct there has collapsed, while Iraq was “the bad war,” the war of choice, and yet the regime there seems to endure and just concluded relatively successful free and fair election. So, that will be the irony if Iraq succeeds and Afghanistan fails, but we may not know for another 50 or 100 years hence we should be modest in our sweeping judgments. So those are my proposals, and Marc LiVecche you’re also doing your own piece on Colin Powell. 

Marc LiVecche: Yeah I’m just focusing, it will dovetail nicely with your own piece. There’s been a lot of conversation about the Powell doctrine, what it is, what it isn’t, all of that. I’m just going to focus on one element of it. And that’s this idea of overwhelming or decisive force that he talks about. He believes that war should be avoided, if at all costs. It’s just a very Christian Realist, very Just War perspective. But if war must be then that war ought to be fought with decisive force so as to achieve the military objectives, otherwise, as in arguably Afghanistan and Iraq, if you’re not going to commit the resources necessary, then maybe you ought not to do the thing in the first place. As he says in his memoir, the only reason we needed the surges in Afghanistan and Iraq was we didn’t put in the proper number of troops to begin with, and that was a mistake, it was an error and a significant one. And then I touch on the distinction he makes, it’s very often cached as his commitment to the overwhelming use of force, and in his memoir he asks to be more precise, by saying “decisive” as his preferred term, not so much overwhelming and that’s just to highlight that overwhelming force might in fact be too much for us and that the focus instead should be simply the decisive achievement of the end, and so I play with what the nuances there a bit, which I think is more than semantics, it is important. And then, just as an aside to both our essays, today  was his funeral service at the national cathedral, and I commend some of the video if people haven’t watched it, particularly the eulogy by his son Michael Cole. I found it deeply moving and as a father yeah I could only aspire that my own son would think me worthy of such esteem, and it says much about the general himself.

Mark Tooley: Thank you, Marc LiVecche, Mark Melton, as mentioned, you posted a piece from Reinhold Niebuhr’s magazine responding to the Stalin-friendly stance of the former Vice President Henry Wallace in 1946 that obviously led up to his independent run for the Presidency in 1948, so tell us a little bit about that and its relevance for today.

Mark Melton: Yes, this speech given in September 1946, was given at a beat Dewey rally. [Dewey] was running, I believe, for re-election of Governor of New York and so in the speech, it is originally reported that it was approved by the Truman administration but it criticizes the Truman administration’s foreign policy. Specifically, its “get tough on Russia policy” and according to Wallace, he says that “getting tough never brought anything real and lasting, whether for schoolyard bullies or businessmen or world powers,” which I think, we might question that line a bit here. But he also goes through several other points that were actually not uncommon amongst the American left at that time: that, basically, the United States needed to cooperate with the Soviet Union. He’s very skeptical of being allies or working with the British, in fact, this viewpoint looks at the British Empire as the next great rival for America. And that a lot of people in America felt a kinship to the Soviet Union, especially on the left. So Reinhold Niebuhr responds to this, and I believe it’s the next month, so October 1946. He writes a piece that blasts Wallace a good bit; he is emphasizing the need for both a firm and patient foreign policy, and we can kind of get into the details of what that actually means. I don’t think it means, post-Cold War, what we think it would mean, as far as a patient foreign policy, but I have another piece that will address that question next week. I found overall the piece from Niebuhr jarring. If you look at it by itself, it looks like he’s being very critical of Wallace, which he is, but I found that reading through 1945-1946 articles from Christianity and Crisis, they say a lot of the same things that Wallace was saying: being critical of US relations with the United Kingdom, from Niebuhr, the idea of meeting the Soviet Union halfway, being very patient and wanting cooperation with them. They were arguing, honestly, I think a lot of the same things that Wallace was. But Wallace was sticking to his guns when the Truman administration was moving closer to an anti-communist stance and more openly doing that with the public. You have the, as I see it, you’re seeing a split between Wallace and Niebuhr in Christianity and Crisis, even though I think Christianity and Crisis contributors are still not recognizing the threat of the Soviet Union quite yet, they don’t really do that until I think after the Czechoslovak coup. And they do support the Marshall Plan in ‘47 as it’s being presented, I don’t think it actually passes until ‘48. But they are promoting it, whereas Wallace kind of criticizes it, so there’s a divergence that’s kind of starting to happen here. And one of the interesting points here is that in early 1947 the journal, because of inflation and other stuff, they’re having to do a fundraiser drive to keep the journal going, and so they asked the readers, “Should the journal keep going?” And they get enough money, I think they need like $5,000, so they get enough money to cover the cost. But they also got about 100 or so people responding, “No, we don’t think the journal should go on, the reason why is because you’re attacking Wallace.” So Wallace was actually very popular with the American left, and Niebuhr expected that Wallace was going to split the Democratic Party apart and he was worried about reactionary forces, AKA the Republicans, gaining power and that he was worried about this very pro-capitalist, very anti-communist force in America, he was worried that it was going to take over and, interestingly, on the eve of the ‘48 election he, like everyone else in America, says Dewey is going to win; this is a boring election because we know how it’s going to turn out. He criticizes the Truman administration; he says Truman doesn’t understand foreign policy. So you see these interesting dynamics, and I go through some of those and so, of course, you can go and read it, but it’s an interesting split because I still think that they’re not anti-communist enough.

Mark Tooley: Lessons: sometimes even Christians or Christian realists are not entirely realistic and succumb to their hopes and former ideal-isms. But Niebuhr did eventually come to his better senses and, of course, even Henry Wallace, as you know, eventually repudiated his stances of the 1940s and became very anti-Communist late in life anyway.

Mark Melton: And voted for the Republican apparently in the ‘50s.

Mark Tooley: Marc LiVecche any more thoughts from you.

Marc LiVecche: I’m pretty good. I’m excited to see the National Security videos get posted. It was a great conference this year and anybody who’s missed it should be lamenting that and should sign up for next year.

Mark Tooley: Well, if they’re a college student or a professor, certainly, let us know if you’d like to join us next year, but we’re delighted to post the videos of Eric Patterson’s presentation on Christian Realism and also remarks from Megan Reiss, who is a national security advisor to Senator Mitt Romney but 15 or 16 videos still to go to, but so much look forward to. Thank you, gentlemen, for another episode of Marksism, until next week, bye-bye.