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Reblogged: A DIM History of American Foreign Policy, Part 2: The Truma

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So we begin our DIM history of foreign policy with the Truman Doctrine.  Not the latest statement of foreign policy to be sure, but close enough to the present to still be highly relevant.  And a clear exemplar of a DIM mode.  Of course, the question is: which one?

“The United States has received from the Greek Government an urgent appeal for financial and economic assistance,” which assistance is imperative for the survival of Greece as a free nation, Truman says, beginning his famous appeal.

A fact is thereby submitted for consideration in American foreign policy thinking.  What does one do with such facts?  Does one begin to integrate a particular case into a framework of national security, in order to understand its implications in relation to American self-interest?  That certainly would be  an “I” approach.  However, after elaborating upon the details of the case, Truman turns to HIS thesis, which asserts another standard: the lofty abstraction of “self-determination.”

“Greece must have assistance if it is to become a self-supporting and self-respecting democracy.”

Why must the US provide that assistance?

Because others cannot, says Truman.

Yes, but why does Greece’s situation demand American action?  Does the fact that others cannot act constitute an obligation for America?  Isn’t the question one of how the problem relates to American national security or to crucial related values, such as the need to support a genuine ally?  Is Greece even such an ally?

Sensing that such a mode of thinking might assert itself in a polemical response to his message, Truman  works to redirect his audience to a different approach.  The Greek government is imperfect, he acknowledges,  but imperfection is not a practical problem; it is a moral problem reflecting our human predicament in the material world; it must be met by tolerance. Looking for clear answers with regard to people and nations is a failure to accept the truth of our flawed earthly existence.

Not wanting to linger too long at this uncomfortable juncture, Truman quickly switches to Turkey, whose case he intends to ally to the Greek case, as a neighboring country whose “independent and economically sound state is clearly no less important to the freedom-loving peoples of the world than the future of Greece.”

Important to whom?

To the “freedom loving peoples of the world,” says Truman,

Does that even really include the Turks?

Important for what?

Isn’t the real issue the containment of the Soviets by preventing them from having easy access to the Mediterranean?

The significance of Turkey to the world certainly could not be considered self-evident–unless one treats abstractions like “self-determination” as disconnected from reality–possessing a clarity akin to self-evidency qua abstractions, which one can embrace with a logical purity that is only possible with abstractions unfettered by practical considerations.

Evidently, Truman thinks this way.  No justification of abstractions is needed.  Abstractions are his justification.  Based on the abstract standard of “self-determination,” he may simply assert: “Turkey now needs our support.”

To anyone not accustomed to such a mode of thinking, Truman must, however, explain how the two cases of Greece & Turkey are united under one abstract heading.  To anyone uninitiated in the ways of an otherworldly mode of thinking, Greece & Turkey likely still appear as two separate existents–not units under a concept.

Truman’s first stage of elucidation consists of asserting that Turkey “is essential to the preservation of order in the Middle East.”

Now grounded minds can begin to climb towards the light.  The justification for aid to a single country is not to be understood as merely a compartmentalized single case. It is an instance of broader policy, which is the stabilization of a region.  So the less abstract goal of Turkish stability is integrated to the more abstract goal of regional stability.

“I am fully aware of the broad implications involved if the United States extends assistance to Greece and Turkey, and I shall discuss these implications with you at this time.”

“Broad implications,” of course, signify the wider meaning of a particular case — its connection to a context, into which the mind expects it to be integrated.

“One of the primary objectives of the foreign policy of the United States is the creation of conditions in which we and other nations will be able to work out a way of life free from coercion…”

So the abstract framework of a Greece and Turkey policy is not merely regional stability, but the even more abstract aim of “self-determination” for all.  If one can climb from the particulars up through the hierarchy of abstractions to this higher truth, one can see why helping others is the right thing to do, thinks Truman.

Of course, ideals do not realize themselves.  In this world, we must be “willing to help free peoples” determine their own fate.  Supporting the formation of the United Nations is one way, he believes, but that kind of idealism cannot always produce practical results in the resistant framework that is the this-worldly international system.

Greece and Turkey need down-to-earth, gritty, material help.  Why should we help them?  Because we support self-determination.  Why do we do that?  Because aggressors who harm self-determination thereby undermine “international peace,” which is the broadest, most abstract objective. And that hurts the security of the United States too.

Does it?  To conduct a careful analysis of this assertion would prove quite challenging. For instance, the aggression of France against Mexico in the 1860s, which was neighboring the United States, did not really threaten American national security–even when the US was in the middle of its own Civil War!   The truth is that France was overextended, and Mexico was inwardly focused. The war between Britain and Napoleon in 1812, by contrast, did involve threats to the rights of Americans.  That would be a good counterexample.  What about the British aggression against Afghanistan in 1839-42, or the parallel aggression of Britain against China in the First Opium War.  These do not seem to have hurt America any.  Don’t we need to look at the broader context to make a determination about whether or not American interests are indeed involved in any particular act of aggression, where the context would include who the aggressor is, against whom they are acting, and why?  A distant perturbation of the international order is not by itself a threat to America.  The Founders for their part were inclined to use a straightforward geographical line of demarcation in thinking about these things. They said that the Americas were our key security sphere.  But even that was a generality, to be applied contextually.  Did anyone in America lose sleep over the Brazil-Paraguay War?  One might concede the possibility of a distant conflict having a national security implication for America, but one certainly could not assume it, just because “international peace” is disturbed.

Of course, this kind of analysis — a welding of facts in their context, within a framework of thought dictated by a true national security standard — was not on Truman’s mind.

The truth is Truman merely mentioned national security, because he had to.  Not that he was against America, unlike a certain president one can think of.  He just didn’t view it as an abstract primary.  Of course, you can’t make a foreign policy statement on this Earth without some token statement of self-interest.

But with the brief mention of America’s self-interest disposed of, Truman moves to his true purpose.

“I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.

I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.”

Self-determination again.  Truman’s true guiding star.

The issue of Greece’s self-determination connects to the issue of Turkey’s self-determination, connects to the challenge of “disorder… throughout the Middle East”–and the demoralizing effect such problems would yield in Europe as well!  Ever the integrator, Truman seeks to show how his  vision subsumes as wide a sphere of impact as possible. “Should we fail to aid Greece and Turkey in this fateful hour, the effect will be far reaching to the West as well as to the East.”

As Truman concludes:

“The free peoples of the world look to us for support in maintaining their freedoms.

If we falter in our leadership, we may endanger the peace of the world — and we shall surely endanger the welfare of our own nation.”

Applying a modoscope to this restatement, we see the precise form of integration Truman proposes.  The particular case must be understood by reference to an abstraction: self-determination, which itself is but a component abstraction of the broader, purer ideal of “the peace of the world” from which sublime height of consideration we descend to observe even America’s own welfare subsumed and given new meaning.  Not merely a welfare defined by a crass “selfish” calculation.  A welfare that derives from a high ideal of “world peace,” as the glowing “form of the good” illuminating the welfare of all, commanding the enlightened sacrifice of Americans to the needs of others.

The Truman Doctrine.  An American M2 foreign policy.

Not the first, mind you.  And, if Leonard Peikoff is right, not the last.


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