by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Like many Republican Trump voters, I rue the loss from the president’s inner circle of such wise advisers as John Bolton and John Kelly, but I think that two extraordinary recent speeches by Attorney General William Barr and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo amply refute my esteemed friend Peggy Noonan’s weekend charge that the president’s management style has left him surrounded by only “a second-string, ragtag, unled army” of lieutenants. You would have to look back years to find such plainspoken foreign policy wisdom as Pompeo showed in his Hudson Institute speech on China last week, and surely few government officials since Lincoln have given speeches of such profundity as Barr’s Notre Dame Law School address on religious liberty earlier last month.
Much as we like and admire the Chinese people, Pompeo warned, and much as we want to be friends with their nation, we’ve been wrong about the People’s Republic for two decades and more. Partly that’s because the massive investment in China by U.S. companies has spawned a permanent class of China lobbyists, who “sell access to Chinese leaders and connect business partners,” and who, reinforced by a swarm of China “scholars,” have energetically misrepresented the true nature of the regime. …
… Attorney General Barr’s defense of the free exercise of religion rises above politics into the realm of political philosophy, an unusual departure for a public official—and a welcome return to first principles. Let’s remember, Barr begins, that the Founding Fathers well understood the fundamental proposition of political philosophy: that men need government because they have “powerful passions and appetites” that, “unrestrained, are capable of ruthlessly riding roughshod over their neighbors and the community at large.” But in whose hands should a people place that necessary power of restraint? Barr quotes Edmund Burke’s answer: “Society cannot exist unless a controlling power be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. . . . [M]en of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions must forge their fetters.”