John McCain has pronounced on the Paul-Perry-Paul war of foreign-policy op-eds that are available here, here, and here, so let us review the bidding. To believe there are things that exceed U.S. control is to accede to an “absence of American leadership” to which all global ills are traceable. To believe other things, controllable or not, fall outside of U.S. interests is to advocate “a withdrawal to a fortress America” such as preceded World War I. Say what one will about Senator McCain, he knows how to spice up a Sunday show with stark simplicities.
West Point’s graduating cadets were patriotic props for President Obama’s “major speech” on foreign policy. Heavy advertisement of the speech, pre and post, tells us that others were his intended audience. The speech was a defense of his conduct of foreign policy against critics whom he did not name but characterized gratuitously, together with a promise to double down on that conduct in the future.
So it really wasn’t directed at foreign friends or foes. It was an act of domestic politics, and of “major” importance, because Obama’s decisions had been criticized unusually heavily in these election-campaign months—including by persons who normally pay little attention to foreign affairs. His audience was really the loyal media whose tolerance he may have exceeded, and even some of his political base.
The American people’s simplistic, self-contradictory demands are the reason for President Obama’s vacillations on foreign policy. Thus did Gerald Seib explain conventional wisdom.
A poll taken last week by NBC News and Seib’s publication, the Wall Street Journal, found that “respondents by a whopping 47 percent to 19 percent margin said the U.S. should be less active rather than more active in world affairs. At the same time, though, a majority said they want a president who shows a willingness to confront America’s enemies.”
By bold paramilitary action, Vladimir Putin is seizing full power over eastern Ukraine. At the same time his empty threat of outright invasion is leading the Ukrainian government—supported by Barack Obama as a rope supports a hanging man—to agree to a “federative structure” for the country.
We read in the Wall Street Journal (April 8, 2014) that the nation’s debate on how we Americans ought to deal with problems arising from China, Russia, and the Muslim world will be set by the contrast between such as Senator Rand Paul, who “is struggling to reconcile a libertarian’s skepticism of foreign entanglements with a party that still holds a good chunk of interventionist sentiment – and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, aligning himself more with the party’s hawks, has called him out on the gap.”
We do not know whether this language, defining as it does international affairs as a choice between “interventionism” and “isolationism,” between “leading the world” and “leading from behind,” between military power and diplomacy, reflects what is in the mind of Rand Paul or Ted Cruz. Whether either of these contenders for the presidency have read or thought outside the framework set by this language, which reflects the mentality of our ruling class, is less important than it is for us to realize that this intellectual framework is false to reality and warps our capacity to understand the choices that face us in foreign affairs.
Vladimir Putin announced his Anschluss of the Crimea— a textbook act of imperial conquest—as a rebuke to American imperialism. This mockery is a measure of our present predicament among nations, and of the prospect that it will only get worse. What reality elicits such contempt? What would it take to remedy it?
Last week, during one of the back-to-back snowstorms nature has inflicted on New England in much the manner of a chain smoker lighting one cigarette from the end of another, a snow plow backed into my fence, knocked a section of it over and slunk off like a shame-faced thief into the night. Something similar happens when a feckless American foreign policy invites aggression.
“Combining the unbridled tongue with the unready hand.” Thus did Theodore Roosevelt define statesmanship at its worst. This is what America’s bipartisan ruling class is giving us.
The Obama Administration tried buffering last week’s announcement that it is reducing the US Army’s size to below its levels of 1940 (when the world’s population was less than one third what it is today) by suggesting that it would concentrate on mastery of the sea and of space.
“America must move off a permanent war footing,” said Barack Obama in his fifth mockery of the State Of The Union address. He coupled these words with a commitment to “keep strengthening our defenses” at home – meaning enhancing the very “homeland security” measures that are the essence of that war footing. Then, confronting popular outrage against the most serious of those permanent war measures, namely the NSA’s collection of ordinary Americans’ electronic communications, Obama cunningly pledged only to enhance confidence in them, having made clear elsewhere that he would not alter their substance.
Important as it is to fix responsibility for failure to protect America’s diplomatic contingent in Benghazi Libya, which led to the death of four Americans on September 11 2012, the effort to do so detracts from a question that goes to the heart of U.S. foreign policy: Why is it that so many U.S. embassies and outposts need protection by U.S. military forces, and even in civilized countries have had to wrap themselves in ever-heavier blankets of security? What has U.S. foreign policy done to raise the level of hate which millions of foreigners bear for us, while at the same time decreasing fear of American retribution? Addressing such questions requires re-assessing the fundamentals of U.S. foreign policy.