The most significant failing of American foreign policy during the Cold War was the pervasive unwillingness to establish a limit to the value of anti-communism. There was no conception that the returns of anti-communist policy was, at some point, not worth the cost. That is why, to make a very long story short, the U.S. supported one vile dictatorship after another for four decades – choices that we are paying for in the most visceral terms to this day.
Among the worst regimes we supported (and suffice it to say the contenders for that title are many) was the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines. It had it all – brutality, corruption, repression, and above all the cockiness to not even try to hide its crimes. If you were alive in 1983 you remember that Marcos had the opposition leader, Benigno Aquino, assassinated the moment he stepped off a plane at the country's major airport. Just walked up to him, shot him in the back of the head in the full view of anyone who cared to look, and walked away.
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That's ballsy. Your average dictator arrests him and does it in a dark jail cell.
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Only someone fully confident that nothing he does will ever have consequences would do it this way.
People were pretty horrified all around the world, and even the Pentagon started to get a little queasy about being associated with the regime. But – and I will never forget the first time I read this many years after it happened – Ronald Reagan made an admission in a press conference that was, if nothing else, startlingly and unusually honest. Referring to the two massive U.S. military facilities our country maintained with the blessing of Mr. Marcos – Subic Bay Naval Station and Clark Air Force Base, both cornerstones of the global reach of American military power into Asia – Reagan said, instead of defending Marcos's actions, "I can't think of anything more important than those bases."
And that was the problem. When literally nothing is more important than achieving your goal, you are inevitably going to do some pretty reprehensible things to achieve it. There has to be a line. A limit. Some point at which you say, OK, we are paying in prestige, dignity, and human decency more than the goal of presenting a strong military face to Global Communism is worth. Maybe we could put the bases somewhere else. Maybe we could stop backing this guy and find someone equally amenable but considerably less awful.
During the Cold War, that almost never happened. American policy under leaders of both parties and of different generations was, "No cost is too high if we can convince ourselves that it is fighting communism." And that is why it was, in so many ways, horrible policy. That is why we are embroiled in wars and conflicts that are, in direct and indirect ways, consequences of the repressive regimes we propped up.
I'm going somewhere with this. The history lesson is just a bonus.
It is trendy for people, myself certainly included, to feel hopeless about the future of American politics right now. It is equally trendy for commentators to predict "the beginning of the end" of the current group of people in power. Time will tell where that turning point truly is. But I believe that the decision made two weeks ago in the White House, in the Senate, and in the Republican National Committee to reverse course and endorse Roy Moore was a mistake that in the long run will turn out to be very significant for the right. By failing to make what was a very easy play – disown Moore and claim some sort of moral high ground – they signaled that literally nothing is more important to them than maintaining power. Nothing. There is no "bridge too far." And if you will support a pedophile if you think it will help you pass some legislation, then why should anyone believe that collaborating with a foreign power to influence an election is beyond possibility?
Why, for that matter, should anything be considered beyond possibility?
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Moore was insane and a borderline joke candidate even before the 14 year old girls stuff came out. He had a strong challenge in the primary. The national GOP was not happy about his candidacy. Rather than following through with what, in whatever they have that passes for a soul, they knew was the right thing to do, they instead convinced themselves that Triggering Libtards was a more important goal than basic human decency.
I'm not a huge fan of arguments based on moral authority. The argument that gay marriage is wrong because "it's immoral," for example, is sophomoric and unpersuasive.
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But if you have no line you're willing to draw based on morality, you will pay the price in the long run for the terrible decisions you make as a result. If you can't say what is beyond the pale for you or your party, it raises the very strong possibility that nothing is.
This should have been a slam dunk for the GOP. Disown the guy, throw him under the bus, and say "Look, one Senate seat that will be on the ballot again in 24 months is not worth embracing this piece of shit." Then boast about how you're willing to draw the line somewhere and bask in the rewards. Instead, they doubled down on a question that was already lingering from their decision to embrace Trump – what, if anything, won't these people do to get what they want?
History is littered with examples of what happens when the answer is "Nothing." Over time, none of them work out especially well.