Where have you gone Harry Truman, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Or, at least, the right eye of the nation -- that internationalist conservative eye which occasionally peers out, rather nervously, from the op-ed pages of the New York Times. In today's Times, resident right eyed nostalgist David Brooks, confessing to "Truman-envy", waxes nostalgically about an American dominated post WW2 world in which guys like George C. Marshall, Dean Acheson, W. Averell Harriman and, of course, Harry Truman ran the global show.
In contrast with the American-centric certainties of the Truman years, today, Brooks complains, power is dispersed and fragmented. This leads to what he calls "globoschlerosis" in which all it take is a few "well-placed parochial interests" to undermine international accords like Doha:
The world has failed to effectively end genocide in Darfur. Chinese and Russian vetoes foiled efforts to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe. The world has failed to implement effective measures to deter Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The world has failed to embrace a collective approach to global warming. Europe’s drive toward political union has stalled.
Brooks might have added Russian plans to establish a state grain company which the FT reported this morning -- a classic case of the way in which Russia is using globoschlerosis to enrich itself and hold the international system to ransom.
So what would Brooks see if he opened his left eye? He'd get to see an international system in which all participants -- and not just the US -- have the power to shape events. Brooks' "de-centered world" is really just a place in which Americans aren't running the show. After all, in Harry Truman's world, all it took is a few well-placed Kansan interests to bring a vast global process tumbling down.
Meanwhile,the right eyed Edward Luttwak, writing in this month's Prospect magazine, is also nostalgic for Truman. Unlike Brooks, however, Luttwak finds a contemporary Truman and his name is George W. Bush. In "A Truman For His Times", Luttwak argues that Bush 's foreign policy, like Truman's, is massively unpopular and yet will, in retrospect, be seen as successful. For Truman's Korea war, Luttwak suggests, read Bush's Iraq war. For Truman's confrontation of global communism, read Bush's pushing back of the global Jihadist threat.
If Luttwak opened both eyes he would, of course, see an American loathed in the world and still mired in failed wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. However, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king and I can't help thinking that both Brooks and Luttwak make more sense of America's role in the world than the myopic, self-satisfied pacificism of most American leftists.
And what about in November -- will we get Harry Truman as an early Christmas present? Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to me that neither McCain nor Obama much resemble Truman. One gets us an underbaked JFK, the other delivers a schlerotic Teddy Roosevelt. So a rerun of the Truman Show looks unlikely. History, I'm afraid, will have to wait to repeat itself.