All posts filed under: Foreign Policy

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 …

A Shameful Betrayal

For the sake of America’s national interest, all communications between President Trump and Turkish strongman Tayyip Erdogan ought to be severed forthwith. Such conversations tend to spur flippant and ignominious decisions by the American president to diminish the American position in the Levant that simultaneously endangers America’s loyal friends and its strategic interests. Few will remember, but the disgrace in which President Trump is currently involving the United States in northern Syria was not only foreseeable but had actually been announced well in advance. Last December after a call with President Erdogan, Trump declared the withdrawal of U.S. forces in Syria on the grounds that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria [ISIS] had been vanquished. This impetuous claim—is this president capable of any other kind?—was immediately belied by the Pentagon and the wider U.S. intelligence community, which insisted that ISIS was on the defensive but nowhere near defeated. The Islamic State still fielded thousands of fighters, operating throughout swathes of Syria and Iraq, and remained a lethal threat to U.S. national security. The next …

The Hell of Good Intentions—A Review

A review of The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of U.S. Primacy, by Stephen Walt. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, (October 2018) 400 pages. Stephen Walt, a professor of international relations at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, is sick of academics, politicians, and journalists who regard the United States as the “indispensable nation,” which has to remain “engaged around the world” to ensure that the “US-led international order” is upheld. These are the fundamental assumptions that have underpinned American foreign policy since the end of the Cold War—a foreign policy that goes by many names, depending on who you ask. Left-wing critics call it “neoliberalism” or “neoimperialism,” Hillary Clinton calls it “American leadership,” and Walt—author of The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of US Primacy—calls it “liberal hegemony.” Walt isn’t alone in decrying liberal hegemony—John Mearsheimer (Walt’s collaborator and a fellow realist at the University of Chicago) published The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities around the same time as The Hell …

“War Is the Least Conservative Undertaking”—An Interview with Dr William Ruger

The recently concluded National Conservatism Conference in Washington, DC, attempted to examine this post-liberal moment and the return to great power rivalry in foreign policy. It was no surprise that foreign policy realism billed one whole day at the conference—the realist outlook cuts across the political spectrum, and often unites national conservatives and libertarians against neo-conservatives and liberals.  For those who are uninitiated, realism in foreign policy is a school of thought reaching all the way back to Thucydides, which focuses on narrow national interests based on strategic concerns. In post-Cold War US politics, this usually translates into greater restraint and less activism abroad. I spoke to Dr William Ruger, Vice President for Research at the Charles Koch Foundation, Cato Institute fellow, and a foreign policy realist, about what the conference reveals about the current moment in American politics, and the foreign policy challenges ahead. *     *     * William Ruger: Neo-conservatism, interventionism, and primacy are tired vehicles that haven’t served American security, prosperity, or our way of life here at home. So rather …

Why We Should Embrace Our Age of Nuclear

The age of humans may soon be known as the age of nuclear. For two decades, scientists have debated whether we are living in a new geological epoch. They appear to have decided that we are and that the invention of nuclear energy should mark its beginning. Twenty-nine of the 34 members of the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) voted this week to declare the invention and testing of nuclear weapons as the beginning of the Anthropocene or geological age of humans. The two other main contenders for demarcating the start of the epoch were the rise of agriculture, which radically altered landscapes, and the birth of the industrial revolution, which has accelerated climate change. The 1945 explosion of nuclear weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the radioactive fallout from outdoor nuclear weapons testing, which continued until 1963, is physically embedded in glacial ice and earth sedimentation. Advocates for the invention of nuclear as the best way to mark the beginning of the human age note that, unlike anything done by hunter-gatherers, agriculturalists, or industrialists, nuclear …