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Reblogged: A DIM History of American Foreign Policy, Part 4: JFK’s

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“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

Let the nations of the world know that America’s pure idealism is back.

Let the world know that America is committed once again to a war of abstractions, for abstractions, and on abstractions: “a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.”

With his inaugural address of 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced the return of M2 — at least for three years.

Kennedy’s inaugural address, sometimes referred to as the “Kennedy Doctrine,” begins with a religious interpretation of America’s founding — generally a good clue with regard to mode. America’s legacy, he says, is “the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.”

The purpose of this intepretation for Kennedy goes beyond the merely religious. It is modal. Kennedy wishes to elevate the concept of individual rights to a “higher” status. He wishes to characterize the fights for rights as akin to carrying a torch, and making a commitment to all the peoples of the world.

This ideal encompasses every person in every country.

Allies, newly “free” countries, destitute hut dwellers — and enemies.

Altruism, though potentially derived from any non-I mode of thought, has the most idealistic fervor in M2.

“…we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required–not because the communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but BECAUSE IT IS RIGHT. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”



BE MORAL. SERVE MANKIND…especially the poor.

As a foreign policy?

For a charismatic M2 president, yes.

This is something to note. JFK was spellbinding man. He captured people’s hearts (first) and minds. Such leaders inspire people to sacrifice themselves. They allow the people to feel a sense of hope that their society embodies values, and that life is not just about the “bottom line.”

The M2 mode is crucial to this appeal. The M2 thinker uses ideas as disembodied forms — higher ideals. The kinds of ideals that the housewife and hoover salesman know they don’t understand, but feel — with the help of years of religious education — are true and good. The M2 mode can make a president into a high priest.

A high priest within the new institutionalized international relations equivalent of the Catholic church: the United Nations, which Kennedy calls “our last best hope.” That the League of Nations, its predecessor was completely ineffectual, does not for a moment factor in his thinking. To modern M2 observers, likewise, the complete inefficacy of the UN in any setting whatsoever to do anything meaningful to stop wars and genocide doesn’t phase them either. The UN is hope. Why? Because it is the very embodiment of M2 internationalism. Hope is not a worldly induction to the M2 thinker. It doesn’t derive from a study of history, in particular the story of man’s progress. It is a dream. An ethereal form to which the soul ascends, transcending the mire of “real life.”

Internationalism is by its nature M2. It has been hijacked and mauled by D in recent times. But the essence of internationalism is the belief that “open covenants, openly arrived at” can somehow transcend the realities of history and culture. An internationalist looks at a communist dictatorship and says: “they love their children too.” Can’t we all just talk? If we can just talk, we can sort it out! Because in the end, we are all on the same “quest for peace.”

History does not support such a view. Communists do not want peace. In fact, one of the metaphysical foundations of their ideology, common to Lycurgus of Sparta, Karl Marx, and Chairman Mao, is that life is war. Not should be, or sometimes is, or unfortunately involves…but IS. Life is war. Conflict is the essence of human existence. This was why the Spartans were a permanently militaristic society. This is why Mao was so taken by Leninism as an anti-imperial antidote to China’s subordination by the West.

The belief that all people want peace is idealism of the “highest” order. Only such an idealism could lead a president to appeal to the Soviets, the petty dictators, and academic Marxists everywhere, “ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

What was such an idealist to do about Cuba, and the danger of the spread of Communism to other parts of Latin America?

As an internationalist, his first recourse, was to call for an “alliance for progress.”

“Let all our neighbors know that we shall join with them to oppose aggression or subversion anywhere in the Americas.”

Eisenhower, however, had set in motion an M1 plan to remove Fidel Castro in Cuba. The CIA — an essentially M1 apparatus required to do the dirty work in the this-worldly mess created by Truman’s otherworldly Doctrine — had devised a plan to overthrow Castro.

M2 idealism was nicely embedded in the plan, virtually insuring its failure. The goal was to achieve the overthrow with a minimum of violence, permitting the Cuban people themselves to take over the reigns of their government. Self-determination was the aim.

Kennedy liked the various features of the Bay of Pigs plan. The invasion would be discrete, deniable, and, if successful, a coup for idealism that would catapult America into the role of big sister tutoring Cuba and the rest of Latin America to keep them from accepting communism.

The debacle that followed is fascinating to watch through a modoscope.

It includes the appropriate penance of the idealist for having been seduced by M1.

“There’s an old saying that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan … Further statements, detailed discussions, are not to conceal responsibility because I’m the responsible officer of the Government …”

And it includes the anger of an M2 idealist directed towards his M1 minions for the failure to realize ideals. Kennedy declared that we wanted to “splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.” The military, he declared, should never be trusted.

The modal paroxysm that followed almost destroyed the world.

The Soviets, emboldened by the perceived weakness of a Kennedy-led America, began staging the deployment of nuclear armaments in Cuba.

They didn’t want peace; they wanted mutually assured destruction. They wanted Americans to live in fear, like they did. And they were willing to push the world to the brink of war.

Accounts of the Cuban Missile Crisis have lionized Kennedy. The movie “Thirteen Days” portrays the great idealist fighting his own military establishment to save the world, and presents his removal of American missiles from various sites in Europe as a triumph of appeasement. That a communist dictatorship became unshakably entrenched in Cuba, and that all of Latin America then had to be subjected to military dictatorships in order to contain communism there, is something that non-integrators would prefer to ignore.

Truman’s M2 idealism set America’s Cold War trajectory. Unlike a policy of rational self-defense, it commanded a kind of idealistic crusade to push the confrontation with the Soviet Union in such a way that its leaders felt cornered.

After the lull of Eisenhower’s M1, Kennedy’s M2 idealism almost brought about the logical outcome of Truman’s crusade: nuclear Armageddon.

M2 was rightly banished from foreign policy as a result.

Until Jimmy Carter, of course. But that M2 disaster only came after Johnson, Nixon, and Ford. Enough of the damage caused by M2 was mitigated during the intervening period to mitigate the impact of the disastrous character of Carter’s foreign policy. But the intervening period also contained a destroyer. A man who, along with Theodore Roosevelt (and probably FDR — I’m not sure yet) is most responsible for turning America’s foreign policy to D.

Who was the destroyer? I’ll give you a clue. He wasn’t a president.

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Scott, I've been generally very encouraged by your writing, but I think with foreign policy you get into a dead-end. For instance, you criticize JFK for trying to create a plan for Cuba that involved minimal long-term US support. Yes, the plan failed, but was this the wrong approach? Is the alternative--essentially a military take-over of the island--the right one? Occupations, to be sure, are not without their downsides.


Should JFK have simply engaged in preemptive nuclear rocket war with the Soviets? Sure, we would have "destroyed" them (their equipment anyhow), but then what? Our half-hearted attempts (Vietnam, etc.) showed that there was no easy answer: let an aggressive country take over the world--which would be bad for us on strictly self-defense terms--or go into the business of nation-building, which puts us in an untenable position. Both involve millions of our lives lost and trillions of our dollars.


When it comes to foreign policy, I've never been introduced to a silver-bullet principled framework, and I've never been able to put together how any part of Objectivism could help you do that. The world outside of our borders is quite evil, and our Founding Fathers were wise when they essentially pointed out that war suspends the normal workings of a country and does not allow its people to be free. Yet the USA has been at war since 1939 for all intents and purposes...

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