All posts filed under: Foreign Policy

The Room Where It Happened—A Review

A review of The Room Where It Happened—A White House Memoir by John Bolton, Simon and Schuster (June 2020), 592 pages. Donald Trump’s White House is fast approaching the end of its first term. Meanwhile, the consequences of the administration’s early insouciance about the onset of COVID-19 are manifest across a country experiencing a ferocious new surge in cases. The US President offers his leadership to those who would scrap the sheltering and distancing rules, characterising them as the imposition of a despised bureaucracy—evidence, as one protestor put it, of a “Communist dictatorship.” Trump is, in most moods, fond of Communist dictators, as China’s Xi Jinping and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un have been pleased to discover. The head of his National Security Council (NSC) from April 2018 until September last year, John Bolton, fears and hates them. These two men, both in their early 70s, were yoked together for 18 months, a period that ended in predictable acrimony, and which has now produced a memoir from Bolton. Several books have already sought to illuminate the malign …

Do We Really Want a New Cold War?

Fear has been making some pretty foolish policy decisions in the last few months. In the US, the decision of several state governments to move patients infected with COVID-19 into nursing homes probably takes the prize, but a close runner-up would be Congress’s CARES act, which misguidedly paid the unemployed to stay unemployed. Trillions have been allocated to remediate the damage done by shuttering non-essential schools and businesses, but relatively little of that Niagara of dollars has made its way downstream to the small businesses and schools that have been most harmed by the lockdowns. As usual, our solons have been trying to crack a walnut with a sledgehammer. Fear has been giving no wiser advice on foreign policy. Politicians and commentators left and right have been competing to march us into a new Cold War. Hold the Chinese responsible! Sue them! Impound their US bank accounts! Uproot all our supply chains that pass through China! Show China who is boss in the South China Sea! Send Chinese students back to China before they can …

Cold War Now or Hot War Later

One might have expected the COVID-19 crisis to produce an inflection point at which agreement was finally reached about the menace presented by China’s regime. However, more than a few political figures and intellectuals remain unconvinced. Writing in Reason, Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at Tufts University, announces that “there is no China crisis.” Against the gathering consensus that China’s brand of authoritarian capitalism and aggressive nationalism poses a genuine threat to the American interests and security, Drezner serenely reassures his readers that it is “hysterical” to believe that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) possesses the power or the will to challenge and subvert the international system. Is this true? Drezner readily concedes that the old Washington consensus—the notion that engagement would spur China’s transformation from ruthless dictatorship to responsible liberal stakeholder in the international order—was erroneous. Although globalization (the integration of world markets for commodities, labor, and capital) has raised living standards throughout the world, including in China, there is scant evidence of political progress in Beijing. To the contrary, General Secretary …

Will There Be a New Cold War with China? A Reply to Niall Ferguson

The end of the Cold War was a heady time in the West. Francis Fukuyama’s essay “The End of History?”—which argued that the world was witnessing the “unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism”—was published in the National Interest a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall. US President George H.W. Bush and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were touting the possibility of a “peace dividend,” in which billions of dollars could be shifted from defense budgets to domestic projects. The number of nuclear weapons in the world dropped precipitously after peaking in the mid-1980s, and the threat of nuclear war seemed dimmer than it had been in decades. There are countless ways in which the post-Cold War era hasn’t lived up to expectations. The global recession in the late 2000s and rising income inequality have undermined faith in open markets and democratic institutions, authoritarian demagogues have risen to power on both sides of the Atlantic, and as the novel coronavirus pandemic ravages the global economy, we could be heading for yet another recession …

Sanders’ Indifferent City on a Hill

In the months since the outbreak of a deadly global pandemic, Americans have rediscovered the world outside. None of the contenders vying for the presidency in 2020 has articulated a particularly coherent or ambitious global role for America. But the only candidate who seems to understand at least that foreign policy is not a dispensable part of American politics is Joe Biden. It is possible that the appearance of a lethal virus incubated in the wet markets of Wuhan has persuaded voters in the Democratic primaries that Biden is the only viable option in a world of such bleak possibilities. The current incumbent, of course, is wedded to an “America-First” program—in truth, little more than an irritable mental gesture, to borrow Lionel Trilling’s gruff description of conservatism—that is plainly ill-suited to a superpower in an interconnected world. Trump’s brash pursuit of transactional dealing and short-term self-interest is also incompatible with the design of American power in a democratic order. Meanwhile, the Democratic field, evincing a deep-seated provincialism, has not inspired confidence about its willingness to …

Holbrooke and the 68ers

Our Man—Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century by George Packer, Knopf, 608 pages, (May 2019) Power and the Idealists by Paul Berman, W. W. Norton and Company, 348 pages, (April 2007 Reissue) I. George Packer is a shrewd chronicler of American decay. In his 2013 book The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, Packer reveals a battered, post-recession United States—from gutted factories in Youngstown, Ohio to abandoned housing developments in Tampa, Florida. The Unwinding isn’t a polemic—it’s written in the style of John Dos Passos’s U.S.A. trilogy, so it includes long profiles of the main “characters” alongside shorter essays about major American figures (from Colin Powell to Oprah) and page-long, staccato blasts of ads, lyrics, movie quotes, and headlines over the years. While some of the portraits in The Unwinding are evocative accounts of American resilience and ingenuity, if you pick up the book today, it’s like reading the prequel to Trumpism. And it hasn’t escaped Packer’s notice that his most recent book, Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End …

The Apologist’s Apologist—A Reply to Robert Wright

In his most recent Nonzero Newsletter, Bloggingheads co-founder Robert Wright celebrates the “death” of the Intellectual Dark Web. Observing with some satisfaction that Google searches for “Intellectual Dark Web” have declined over the past couple of years, he points to what he describes as the IDW’s main “public relations problem”—its members aren’t as committed to the “vigorous and open exchange of ideas” as they insist. To substantiate this charge, Wright complains that a Twitter search returns no IDW objections to Trump’s recent executive order targeting antisemitism on U.S. college campuses. This alleged “inconsistency in the attitude of some in the IDW toward thought policing,” Wright says, was on his mind following publication of an article I wrote about Max Blumenthal for Quillette in October entitled “Tyranny’s Mouthpiece.” Blumenthal had just appeared on Wright’s Bloggingheads show, which he spent doing what he always does—blaming the United States for as much chaos and bloodshed in the Middle East as possible. Blumenthal was fresh off a trip to Damascus, where he had attended a regime-sponsored “international trade union …

Tensions in NATO and the Looming End of Pax Americana

As NATO leaders gathered in London this week to mark the 70th anniversary of history’s most venerable military alliance, it has been widely forgotten that not so long ago the specter of armed conflict haunted the European continent. When the Washington treaty establishing NATO was signed in April 1949, the Soviet Union occupied the captive nations of Eastern Europe and an invasion of Western Europe by the Red Army was not a remote possibility. On current trends, the Atlantic alliance may well suffer a premature demise as the world moves into another great power rivalry that is also an ideological contest between democracy and autocracy. A terse review of the historical record is in order here. In the aftermath of World War Two, the United States committed itself to a revolutionary foreign policy. The extraordinary task of maintaining some semblance of international order after two global conflagrations was premised on a controversial but compelling notion of enlightened self-interest. The guiding principle of U.S. statecraft was that the peace of the world was in grave and …

Bereft of Impartial Arbiters

The proximate cause of the US House of Representatives’ decision to invoke articles of impeachment is the president’s decision to make Congressionally authorized military aid for Ukraine conditional on a commitment from Kyiv to pursue investigations into his chief political rival. Trump, in short, has sought (unsuccessfully, thanks to the efforts of a whistleblower) to grossly abuse his office for personal political gain. Nothing that has yet come to light contradicts this pregnant allegation. On the available evidence, there is presently no reasonable doubt that Trump was engaged in the extortion of a foreign head of state—and the betrayal of the national-security interests of the United States—to smear a political opponent. Trump’s defenders contend that presidents often use leverage to induce foreign leaders to act in ways they might prefer not to, but such inducements are legitimate only in service of the national interest, which Trump’s patently were not. As the impeachment process unfolds, it is becoming apparent that few American politicians today understand that democratic republics need to be bastions of moral order if …

Tyranny’s Mouthpiece

On September 8, 2019, Syria’s state news agency published an article about the beginning of the Third International Trade Union Forum in Damascus, which hosted “dozens of intellectuals, journalists, (and) political and social activists from Arab and foreign countries.” Among the attendees were the American journalists Max Blumenthal and Rania Khalek. If you want to know why Blumenthal and Khalek were welcome at an event organized “under the auspices of Bashar al-Assad”—aside from the fact that they’re frequent contributors to the Russian propaganda outlets Sputnik and Russia Today—the rest of the article should give you an idea. It condemns the “aggressive terrorist war” launched against Syria, along with the “economic war that constitutes terror in and of itself” (a reference to U.S. sanctions). It calls for a media campaign to galvanize world public opinion in support of the Syrian government and “reveal the truth about the U.S. policy of besieging independent and free countries.” It points out that the “real goal of the war on Syria is to stop it from being a force that …