Things that Matter, Really?

The 2013 book “Things that Matter” by Dr. Charles Krauthammer is a must-read. It is a “window into the master polemicist’s habits, mind and technique”. It is an eye-opener on so many “things that matter” the way he saw it.

My particular interest was in Democratic Realism (2004) ,A Unipolar World, pp. 334-351. Here, he gave a persuasive argument why USA must embrace “democratic realism”.

Accordingly, he posits that post WW I/II, and Cold War, ended “everything— the end of communism, socialism, of the Cold War and of the European (and Pacific war)”. But, “it was also the beginning of a “unipolar world” where USA has “unipolar power”, a “single superpower unchecked by any rival and with decisive reach in every corner of the world”. What to do with that power becomes a challenge that was “so new, so strange, that we have no idea how to deal with it… our first reaction was utter confusion…the next reaction was awe”.

Paul Kennedy saw what America (at a distance of 8,000 miles) did in the Afghan war; nothing has ever existed like this disparity of power, not Charlemagne empire confined merely to Western Europe in its reach, not even the Roman empire, great empire in Persia and a larger one in China”.

We are “unlike Rome, Britain, France Spain and other empires of modern times in that we do not hunger for territory”; the “use of empire in an American context is ridiculous” since our demand upon arriving in foreign soil was an “exit strategy”.

For “five centuries, the Europeans, as in Lawrence of Arabia, did hunger for deserts, jungles, oceans and new continents. Americans do not; we like it here: McDonald’s, football, rock and roll, GrandCanyon , Graceland, Silicon Valley and South Beach…Las Vegas, Iowa corn , NY hot dogs and if we want Chinese or Indian or Italian food, we went to food court; we don’t send the marines for takeout.” That’s because we are not an “imperial power but a commercial republic in that we don’t just take food ; instead we trade for it”.

By “pure accident of history, (USA) has been designated custodian of the international system. The eyes of every supplicant from East Timor to Afghanistan, from Iraq to Liberia, Arab and Israeli, Irish and British, North and South Korea are upon us.”

What to do?

Dr Krauthammer then enumerated and analyzed each one, what to his mind were options we have as a nation:

1. Isolationism: To “hoard that power and retreat ; the oldest pedigree as we are isolated by 2 vast oceans” . It is an “ideology of fear of the other, withdrawal from our military and strategic commitments around the world”, except for self-defense as in the Afghanistan war. It is “radical retrenchment of American power—pulling up the drawbridge to Fortress America”. But, aside from “brutal intellectual reductionism, it is obviously inappropriate to the world of today with the reality of no barriers brought on by modern technology” (that would have exposed us to another 9/11); this is “not just intellectually obsolete , it is politically bankrupt as well…moribund and marginalized.”

2. Liberal internationalism: This was in the 1990’s, the “foreign policy of the Democrat Party and the religion of foreign policy elite”. It traces its “pedigree to Woodrow Wilson’s Utopianism, Harry Truman’s anti-communism and John F. Kennedy’s militant universalism”. But, after the Vietnam war, it was “transmuted into an ideology of passivity, acquiescence and almost reflexive anti-interventionism”. In the 1980’s, they gave us “nuclear freeze movement, a form of unilateral disarmament in the face of Soviet nuclear advances. This “liberal passivity in the last half of the Cold War was so militant that outlived the Cold War”. When Kuwait was invaded, the question was “Should the US go to war to prevent the Persian Gulf from falling into hostile hands?” The Democrat Party joined the Buchananite isolationists in saying “no”; “Democrats voted 2/1 in the House and more than 4/1 in the Senate.” And yet, quite astonishingly, when “liberal internationalism came to power just 2 years later in the form of Clinton Administration, it turned almost hyperinterventionist, as in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo.” The “doves” of Cold War and Gulf War transmutated into Haiti/Balkan “hawks” for “humanitarian interventionism” devoid of “national interests”; morally pristine “to justify the use of force”. The “history of the 1990’s refutes the lazy notion that liberals have an aversion to the use of force —they do not”. Instead, the “aversion is in the use of force for reasons of pure national interest, which is not a “simple self-defense as in Afghanistan, but as defined by a Great Power: shaping international environment by projecting power abroad to secure economic, political and strategic goods”. Thus, “no” to Kuwait which merely is a form of “grand national self-interest and “yes” to Kosovo (as a humanitarian use of force). The “other defining feature of Clinton foreign policy was multilateralism expressed in a mania of treaties, viz., anti-ballistic missile treaty amendments aimed squarely at American advances and strategic defenses, Kyoto Protocol exempted China and India, nuclear test ban seriously degraded American nuclear arsenal”. The “whole point of multilateral enterprises is to reduce American freedom of action by making it subservient to, dependent on, constricted by the will and interests —-of other nations. In other words, “ to tie down Gulliver with a thousand strings”. It manifests itself “ in the slavish pursuit of international legitimacy —that opposes American action without universal foreign blessing”, i.e., of the UN, Security Council or “allies”. Do we lack “moral legitimacy” because our action lacks the blessing of the “butchers of Tiananmen Square or the cynics of the Quai d’Orsay?” This liberal internationalism is misplaced “higher moral standing”. The “liberal aversion to national interest” stems from an idealism, a larger vision of country, a vision of some ambition and nobility—-the ideal of a “true international community”; and not anti-Americanism, or lack of patriotism or a late efflorescence of 1960’s radicalism. In short, it is a transformation from the “very idea of state power and national interest into a democratized international system where all live under self-governing international institutions and self-enforcing international norms”. And, this requires abolishing “American dominance”.

3. Realism; recognizes the fundamental fallacy in the whole idea of the international system being modeled on domestic society. This is so because domestic society is held together by “supreme central authority wielding a monopoly of power and enforcing norms “ that in international arena is nonexistent. It “rests on shared goodwill, civility and common values of its individual members” which is a fiction as all nominal members of “international community” are not really shared. It is an “illusion to think that relations with all nations, regardless of ideology, culture, even of open hostility can be transacted on EU model of suasion, norms , negotiations, and solemn contractual agreements.” The realist believes the definition of peace Ambrose Bierce offered in The Devil’s Dictionary: “Peace in international affairs is a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.” The reality is that the stability we enjoy today is owed to the overwhelming power and deterrent threat of the USA. Those “uneasy with American power have made preemption and unilateralism the focus of unrelenting criticism—attacked for violating international norms. Realism is a valuable antidote to the wooly internationalism of the 1990’s but one cannot live by power alone. Our “foreign policy must be driven by something beyond power and America cannot and will not live by realpolitik alone.”

4. Democratic Globalism: foreign policy that defines national interest not as power but as values and that identifies what JFK called the “success of liberty”. This is the US foreign policy that guided this decade(2004). The credo is “beyond power, beyond interest and beyond interest defined as power.” This is a “value-driven foreign policy” that seeks the “advance of freedom and the peace that freedom brings.” Its attractiveness is precisely that it shares realism’s insights about centrality of power and has appropriate contempt for the fictional legalisms of liberal internationalism. The spread of democracy is not just an end but a means , an indispensable means for securing American interests. And, the reason is simple as democracies are inherently more friendly to the USA, less belligerent to their neighbors and generally more inclined to peace. Realists are right that to protect your interests you often have to go around bashing bad guys over the head. But even that has limits; at some point, you have to implant something organic and self-developing. And that something is democracy, but where?

5. Democratic Realism

The danger of democratic globalism is its universalism, it’s open-ended commitment to human freedom, it’s temptation to plant the flag of democracy everywhere. It must learn to say “No” or “Yes” depending on this axiom:

“We will support democracy everywhere, but will commit blood and treasure only in places where there is a strategic necessity— meaning, places central to the larger war against the existential enemy, the enemy that poses a global mortal threat to freedom”

Where does it count? “Fifty years ago, Germany and Japan counted” because of the global threat of fascism. Today, the new existential enemy is Arab-Islamic totalitarianism that has threatened us in both its secular and religious forms for the quarter-century since the Khomeni revolution of 1979.

Will Middle East democratic change lead to peace like flipping Germany and Japan, thus changing the strategic balance in the fight against Arab-Islamic radicalism? The “undertaking is enormous, ambitious and arrogant …a bridge too far, and may yet fail.” But, “we cannot afford to try.” It is not about “taking out one man” (or others with him) as it is a belief-system that is a “cauldron of political oppression, religious intolerance and social ruin in the Arab-Islamic world—transmuted into virulent, murderous anti-Americanism”. This is “war and in war, arresting murderers is nice; but “you win by taking territory—-and leaving something behind”.

He summarized these 5 options with:

Isolationism ignores unipolarity, pulls up the drawbridge, defends Fortress America; but current technology makes moat unrealistic. Liberal internationalism is aware of unipolar power but using it for anything other than humanitarianism or reflexive self-defense is an expression of national selfishness; it yields that power piece-by-piece by subsuming ourselves in a global architecture in which America becomes, not an arbiter of international events, but a good and tame international citizen. Realism understands this new unipolarity and its use—unilateral and preemptive if necessary; but it fails because it offers no vision; has all means but no ends and cannot define our mission. Democratic globalism rallied the American people to struggle over values, vindicates American idea by making the spread of democracy the success of liberty, the ends and means of American foreign policy, though it needs temperance. On the other hand, Democratic realism is targeted, focused and limited; we are friends to all but we come ashore only when it really counts. Arab-Islamic fundamentalism with Iran as head of the Beast, does not draw back and seeks nirvana in dying for their cause; the rationality of the enemy is beyond our control; but use of our power is within our control. And “if that power is used wisely, constrained not by illusions and fictions but only by the limits of our mission—-which is to bring a modicum of freedom as an antidote to nihilism—we can prevail”.

My Take

All the preceding enumerated options have one thing in common: they depend on any human endeavor, ability to discern on their own and wisdom to decide precisely, timely and consistently the correct path to take. Even the Hobbesian and Lockean philosophy depend on human’s intellect and wisdom to decide. In that predicate and fundamental basis, they also suffer as a specific and particular human(Jesus Christ) is needed to start the process. As written in Isaiah 55:8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.

International order that comes with an “ideal government”, will not be achieved until the “kingdom of God” is established. And this was known, planned for from the beginning of time and promised in an “unwritten covenant” to start with a “human trailblazer” embodied in the “gospel” of the true and credible witness

Man is composed of flesh which is “weak” and needs to be changed and “equipped”. It was a “perfect clay” when made but “got marred” by sin so the Potter has to re-make it. And this process will come and is coming through the aegis of God’s empowering Holy Spirit in-dwelling in us, individually making up eventually collectively, and expanding worldwide.


The world has to be “one” with one another. But with much diversity in interests, needs, wants and expectations that are inherent among humans, this is a “dilemma” that cannot be resolved until the focus veers away from each other and on “change of mind” from within. Undoubtedly, “oneness” is with the Father and through this mechanism will we be “one” with one another. Even God timed it well, viz., Yahweh be incarnated as human Jesus, receive the Holy Spirit of power himself at River Jordan to develop, be guided and empowered, die for our sins to reconcile us with the Father, to be the trailblazer and builder, resurrected to receive the gift of Holy Spirit to be given to us individually at “time appointed” also for our spiritual growth and development, his return and 1st spirit-bodied resurrection to start the Millenium by defeating the proximate existential enemy the Beast, then after the Millenium to defeat Gog and Magog, Satan and evil angels, then the new heaven and earth. All of these events take planning, timing and patience to give rise to a “new world order”—-the kingdom of God.

Dr Charles Krauthammer passed at age 68 on June 21, 2018 as a consequence of small bowel cancer. Our deepest condolences to the bereaved wife, family, friends and readers worldwide. He will be resurrected at the “time appointed” for him. And, at that time his mind will open up to the truth that his ideals will only be achieved consistent with God’s plan. This book is a capitulation of his decades as a columnist, his legacy to all of us.

On the other hand, the man-Jesus died 2,000 years ago and the only human that resurrected into life with an immortal body. His legacy that lasts as a human on earth is embodied in his gospel.

This is our “destiny” that was planned out of God’s love.

“Things that really matter” take us to the “bottomline”, wrapped in code word “salvation” which is a process that takes time. This is the “legacy that lasts” .


Original post: April 28, 2020. A very special “stay-at-home” day for me.

Please tap on hyperlink to expand the underlying fundamentals.

Acknowledgement: Immense gratitude to my wife, Evelyn, for giving me this book to read and learn , thereby providing me an opportunity to post alternative take on the subject.

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