Celebrating the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy was an obligatory ritual for two generations of American statesmen. As the decades passed however, mention of it and of “our European allies” has come with decreasing conviction and increasing embarrassment. Few dispute that, today, the alliance’s formalities are a pretense likelier to get its members into trouble than to pull anyone out of it. Civilizational changes have emptied it of substance. Readjusting American strategy to take account of those changes makes far more sense than talking about “revitalizing” or “rebuilding” an alliance on bases that no longer exist.
Far from marking the Republican Party’s rebirth, the elections of 2014 foretell the possibility that the law of supply and demand—which operates in politics as well as in economics—will kill it in 2016. That is because the Republican Establishment has no intention of meeting the American people’s pent-up demand, expressed so forcefully in the mid-term elections, to turn America away from the direction in which government, under both parties, has shoved it over the past generation.
The Republican Establishment, reading the results as a mandate to continue doing what it has been doing, will proceed as normal, and then be as challengeable as the Democrats in two years. The 2016 political marketplace will reward whoever promises to satisfy the voters’ continually unmet demands.
As the American people go to the polls in an election which, both parties tell us, will decide the country’s future by determining which of them will have a majority in the Senate, Ronald Reagan’s October 27, 1964 speech “A Time For Choosing,” the golden anniversary of which came last week, leads us to ask what choices the Republicans and Democrats are giving us in 2014, and what difference the success of either makes.
For a generation, the U.S. government, public figures, and the press have been affixing the label “terrorist” or “dangerous extremist” to their least favorite people and causes. Setting subjective preferences over reality has been detrimental to our safety as well as politically divisive. It is past time for our body politic to make such designations in a democratically responsible way.
The New York Times’ account of Washington’s embarrassed secrecy about the U.S. military’s encounter with several thousand chemical weapons in Iraq, and the often callous medical treatment provided to the troops who dealt with them during the 2003-20011 occupation, is incomplete.
Not mentioned by the Times is that our special operations forces had run into these weapons in 2002 during secret, pre-invasion reconnaissance missions under CIA operational command. At least one U.S. officer suffered kidney failure after coming upon a suspect site, ordering his men to stand back as he entered to check it out and collapsing upon exiting. Discharged on medical disability, he has been on dialysis awaiting a kidney transplant since 2004. He and other special forces were warned—more categorically than the occupying troops discussed by the Times—that divulging what happened to them would be treated as a serious breach of “top secret” security.
Acting in the manner of sorcerers’ apprentices over several decades, the makers of U.S. foreign policy have contributed to turning many of the tensions among the world’s peoples into disasters. These American-caused disasters diminish the respect for America upon which our own peace depends. The trouble comes not from any errors of detail, but rather from disregarding the fundamentals of statecraft. The remedy lies in paying attention to them. Herewith, a glance at the U.S. government’s responsibility for the disasters now unfolding along the Islamic State’s bloody edges.
“There has perhaps not been another individual of the human race of whose daily existence from early childhood to fourscore years has been noted down with his own hand so minutely as mine.” Thus wrote John Quincy Adams in his diary in October 1846, sixteen months before his death. That diary is a principal reason why Fred Kaplan’s biography is so big, thorough, and so rich in quotes from the most primary of sources. Since the rest of the folks who mattered in Adams’ life also wrote copiously about matters personal, social, political, and intellectual, Kaplan was able to present…
With the Islamic State’s invitation to sympathizers everywhere to join in murdering Americans, U.S. public opinion favors destroying this nefarious force. Accordingly, politicians of both parties—especially those up for election—are competing to see who can issue the most bellicose statements.
But popular sentiment notwithstanding, there is no reason to believe that our ruling class has learned anything new, that it is shedding the ways that have opened hunting season on Americans, or that it is setting about destroying America’s enemies.
Walter McDougall writes: “Congress and the American people…want to believe their ‘indispensable nation’ can be a ‘benevolent hegemon’ doing good on the cheap and doing well by doing good.” As a description of how Americans view our role among nations, this is arguable. But it is a fair summation of our foreign policy establishment‘s view of America’s proper role among nations, of which liberal internationalists, neoconservatives, and realists give particular versions. The terms “indispensable nation” and “benevolent hegemon” characterize Mackubin Owens’ thesis as well. The part of McDougall’s exemplary career as a historian that has dealt with international affairs has been…
In response to: How to Secure America’s Peace
Angelo Codevilla has been a legend in our house since the 1980s when my wife and I first encountered this Renaissance force of nature radiating virtú. Somehow Angelo manages a vineyard in California, a horse ranch in Wyoming, a large, loving family, a prolific academic career, and world travel without strain, indeed with unfailing ebullience.…
Angelo Codevilla’s analysis of the many problems associated with U.S. foreign policy provides an abundance of important insights. He is devastatingly on the mark when he contends that since the beginning of the 20th century, U.S. officials have transformed the Founders’ emphasis on shielding the American people against external dangers into an arrogant, unattainable objective…
There is much with which to agree in Angelo Codevilla’s thoughtful essay. To the extent that he and I differ, it is with regard to means and not ends. We both agree that U.S. foreign policy is in shambles, characterized by drift and incoherence. It is at best a-strategic at worst anti-strategic, lacking any concept…
Ruling class pundits make much of the fact that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Emirates, Bahrain, and Jordan have joined the Obama administration’s campaign of bombing the Islamic State. Also noted by the same talking heads is that some 5,000 so-called moderate Syrians are being trained to fight against Islamic State next year. Most admit the obvious: no one can imagine how these air strikes—few, against structures, mostly when these are unoccupied—can inconvenience the Islamic State seriously, never mind destroy. Yes, Sunni Arab counties have decided to take military action against the Sunni Arab Islamic State. But what is consequential about actions that have illusory consequences? What explains our government’s pretense that an alliance to accomplish un-consequential things is itself consequential?