Bipartisan Consensus: The Two Most Frightening Words In Washington

Foreign policy has been divided, conceptually, between the “realists” and the “idealists.” The idealists who have no idea what reality is. And the realists who just plain have no idea.

There are the foreign policy experts who refuse to play the game because the quarterback on the other team wasn’t democratically selected. And there are the foreign policy experts who are eager to run with the ball but don’t know which end zone they’re supposed to be headed toward.

Ideas aren’t real. You can’t eat an idea. But you can’t deliver a beefsteak with no idea of what a cow is.

Idealists produce bad foreign policy. On the other hand, realists produce bad foreign policy. But the worst foreign policy is produced by realists and idealists working together. This is called bipartisan consensus. Those are the two most frightening words in Washington. Bipartisan consensus is like when my doctor and my lawyer agree with my wife that I need help.

World Affairs won’t be a “realist” publication, because we intend to find the facts rather than pretend that we know them already. And World Affairs won’t be an “idealist” publication, because we intend that our arguments will lead to your conclusions, not that our conclusions will lead to a bunch of arguments with you.

“Idealism” versus “realism” is nonsense in American foreign policy. It’s part and parcel of the nonsense being talked in America these days—nonsense about the very nature of our country. America is troubled by illegal immigrants? Did we all come over the land bridge from Asia with the Inuit and the Sioux?

Build a wall along the border? And give a huge boost to the Mexican ladder industry. Put the National Guard on the Rio Grande? And know that the U.S. Army is standing between you and yard care.

Is there validity to “American Exceptionalism?” Where except American would that even be debated? No, those immigrants at whom we’re so mad are trudging across the border badlands carrying their children, swimming the Rio, being preyed upon by bandits and thugs because America is such an ordinary place.

I want to tell you a brief story that, for me, sums up the world’s attitude toward America, and sums up what I think should be the true basis of America’s foreign policy.

I was in Lebanon in 1984, covering the civil war. And I was traveling through Hezbollah-controlled South Beirut with a driver. We kept getting stopped at checkpoints. Each checkpoint was worse than the last. Finally we got to a checkpoint where the armed guards were just kids—fifteen, sixteen years old. They were wearing “Kill America Satan Devil” t-shirts and sticking the muzzles of their AK-47s in the dirt and scratching their noses with the rifle sights. (Gun safety merit badges must go begging in the Lebanese Boy Scouts.) I produced my American passport, and the kids went purple with rage. One of them grabbed the passport and started yelling at me. He was furious. He yelled at me for half an hour, telling me how all the terrible things that were wrong with the world were caused by America—poverty, war, injustice, Zionism. And then, when he got done yelling, he handed me back my passport and said, “As soon as I get my Green Card I’m going to study dentist school in Dearborn, Michigan.”

These remarks were given at the World Affairs re-launch party (1/29/2008). P. J. O'Rourke is an author and correspondent for the Weekly Standard.

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