Our Foreign Policy

What bothers me about the foreign policy of the US is how reactive it has become. I don’t see any evidence that there is a concerted plan, a goal that this country is trying to achieve with its foreign policy. This is why everything it does in the realm of foreign relations these days seems so weak and confused. 

“Let’s wait and see what Putin does. OK, this is what he did. Right. Now let’s wait some more and see what he does next. And for good measure, let’s warn him that we are gravely concerned and about to do something. Let’s see what he does next. . . and next. . . and next. . . and then for sure we will do something.”

Substitute ‘Putin’ with ISIS or Hamas or Israel or absolutely anything at all, and the result will still be the same.

The way I see it is that a foreign policy, in order to be successful, has to be guided by a goal or a set of considerations or, ideally, a philosophy of “our being in the world.” Then there would be no need to sit here, scratching our noodle, while everybody else is pursuing just this kind of actual philosophy. 

Putin has a philosophy. He wants Russia to be to the world what the US was in the XXth century. Ukraine has a complex and interesting foreign relations policy. Gosh, even ISIS has a concrete and specific goal. Yes, the Caliphate is an idiotic goal, but at least it is an actual plan. 

Even a bad goal is better than nothing. With a bad goal, people could argue, discuss, work to modify it. “Let’s use everybody in the world like a disposable piece of Kleenex to enrich ourselves and have a grand old time.” That’s, at least, a concrete philosophy people could choose to work for or against.

And I have a proposal for a much better philosophy of “being in the world.” I think it would make sense to dedicate ourselves to preventing the scenario of “the imagined community of the aggrieved and the sulky getting together and lashing out against those who are not as intimidated by the rapidly changing world.” Yes, that would involve taking a stand and actually having the courage to say “we” and “they.” While we are sitting here, wriggling in the polite terror of hurting somebody’s feelings, the less sensitive among the world’s players are creating real terror that will be visited upon us irrespective of how sensitive and polite we are.

Gosh, even W. with his “evil-doers” now makes me feel nostalgic after Obama’s endless “folks” and “whatever is happening.” 

P.S. Has anybody noticed how brilliant my recent posts have been? It’s like one flash of brilliance after another, if I say so myself.

27 thoughts on “Our Foreign Policy

  1. Perhaps there is a plan and perhaps it is so against the interests of the rest of the world that enunciating it clearly would not be in the interests of the US?


    1. But if there were a plan, wouldn’t we be seeing some sort if action already? Things are happening, major things, and all I see is dawdling and dithering.

      But I do hope there is some method behind this madness.


      1. There’s such a thing as covert action. In that case, what we would be seeing is a mixture of intended and unintended side effects. Which could be anything, coup in Thailand, China staking claims on every “island” in the South China Sea, the Ghanian currency going south stat. But some trends are of course random noise.


  2. I agree with this stuff here. The posture of acting helpless and inept and lamenting the machinations of power is now so outdated. I can feel resistance to it starting to build in the air. There is nothing wrong with having a clear idea for the future.


          1. I’m just so deeply unimpressed with the current state of Western culture. They used to preach at me and preach at me about their moral superiority, but after time one finds it is all hollow. And the character structure of the contemporary Westerner is particularly hollow. Something has to give.


      1. Chris Hallquist sez that “Culture is powerful because cultures are game-theoretic equilibria.” I generally dismiss game theory as social darwinism apologetics, sort of like evolutionary psychology, but something about this one rings true.


      1. Gladly! Right now the goal is to preserve sovereignty and freedom of action from powerful neighbors both to the East and the West. The majority of Ukrainians want to concentrate on fighting corruption in the country. They want to be left alone by both East and West. The country’s leadership is trying to keep both East and West at bay by unloading a collection of pleasing lies on them. Long-term, this will be a very difficult balancing act. Of course, the country is at war right now but there is already work going on to fight for this long-term goal. It’s a great misfortune to be placed between the two giants, Russia and EU. Staying afloat and not being eaten up by either of them will be a very unique challenge.


      2. \\ It’s a great misfortune to be placed between the two giants, Russia and EU. Staying afloat and not being eaten up by either of them will be a very unique challenge.

        Eaten by EU? But EU wouldn’t invade Ukraine as Russia has done. I am too naive probably, so was surprised by seeing you to lament Ukraine being near EU. You previously said that EU is the way of the future, not small (or big) nationalisms, thus shouldn’t Ukraine want to develop sufficiently its economy and then join EU without sufering bad economic effects?

        If EU is a giant now, where are non giants? China, Japan, USA, Russia, EU – today’s world is moving to giant formations.
        In the Middle East not yet, but what is around me is worse.


  3. There’s a small problem:”the imagined community of the aggrieved and the sulky getting together and lashing out against those who are not as intimidated by the rapidly changing world.” pretty much describes internal U.S. politics right now.

    I think the U.S. is afraid of WWIII.


    1. Of course, there are people who are disturbed by modernity exist in every society. But there are the aggrieved of ISIS and there are some disgruntled homeschoolers in the US. The degree of disaffection is not even comparable.


    2. I fear living in wartime, because in wartime, the culture shifts to esteem of warrior types (note the lionization of all the “chain of command” professions following 9/11), “home & hearth”, assent, etc. at the expense of intellectuals, cosmopolitan norms, dissent, etc. Put more bluntly, every beheading of an American moves the political needle rightward, and I’m leftist enough to resent that (and honest enough to admit that a germ of politics of resentment resides within me, FWLIW).

      That being said, I fear forever wars such as the duration-record-shattering Afghanistan war more than I fear the Third World War. While the Second World War included the imposition of what almost amounted to a command economy in the US, and frank acceptance of explicit censorship of the press, and stuff like that, at least at some point it was over. And the unintended side effects included a less racist and sexist society and as optimal a tradeoff between equality and prosperity as the world has seen before or since. I’m not as optimistic about the prospects of a Third World War being good for the social contract. As Clarissa pointed out elsewhere in the present brilliant series, the economy in general is getting dramatically less labor intensive, and the defense sector is no exception. But at least an all-out conflict has the potential to “clear the air” in a way these exercises in micromanagement at gunpoint never will.


  4. Yes, they are brilliant – especially by comparison to many talking heads. Just twitting you there. What you are posting is thoughtful and interesting. Enjoying being on board.


  5. It is quite normal for a “lame duck” (cannot run for re-election) president facing a hostileCongress to transition to caretaker mode. That is, focusing on just getting through his term without trying to accomplish much. This may be one reason for a lack of a plan.

    Another is a classic lack of information. The CIA is incredibly weak on the ground in the middle east. Israeli intelligence doesn’t share everything it knows with the US, and it usually knows a lot more than we do. That’s particularly true when the US is trying to take a balanced position between Israel and the Palestinians. Plenty of historical precendent for that.

    Even if Obama didn’t ask for plans, the US military and State Dept. probably have been doing some rudimentary planning. They never work tegether on this.

    However, the rise of ISIS simply took the US establishment by surprise. Thus the planning that was done is irrelevant to the current situation.


  6. My city’s annual Ukrainian Festival is this weekend. Usually it seems to be the standard sort of thing with ethnic food, drink, and dubious “folk” costumes that someone might or might not have worn back in the 1820’s.

    I wonder if there will be any political rallies this year?


    1. There was recently a big celebration of the Ukrainian Independence day in Montreal, and there were only very slightly political overtones. But if you go, do tell how it turns out!


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