In light of events in Libya, I think it worthwhile to re-post an article I wrote back on February 2nd, 2010. We are caught now in a bind. Idiot foreign and military policy precedents are preventing us from even so much as thinking about doing what is right for American foreign policy. I propose a clean sweep, and an entirely new policy:
The two fundamental errors of American foreign policy over the past century have been reliance upon international bodies and engaging in un-declared warfare – both are related to each other and both strip away from the government (which is not just the President) the ability to set American foreign and military policy. These two errors first came about early in the 20th century – Wilson’s intervention in Mexico in 1916 followed by his attempt to bring us in to the League of Nations – but only took firm root in the post-WWII era.
It was under Truman where we became locked in to these two policy ideals: un-declared war and working within international bodies. When Truman decided to intervene in the Korean Civil War without reference to Congressional approval and in the name of the United Nations, we were hooked. Now, in my view, fighting in Korea was correct American policy – while it was not, as thought at the time, a precursor to a general policy of communist adventurism, it was vital that the United States not permit any further territorial gains for communism. Especially in the face of direct aggression. The problem was not the policy, but how we engaged in it.
Nations conduct their foreign affairs by a variety of means: diplomatic, economic and military. All three are inter-related and no valid foreign policy may be conducted without elements of all three means. Because war is part of foreign policy, it is vital that a nation set its foreign policy on the understanding that the nation’s young men (and, these days, women) may end up being sent to shed their blood in defense of the policy. People sent to war have a right to sacrifices only being required for the most vital of national interests and with the conviction that their orders are animated by a concrete, achievable policy.
What this means is that a nation must not set its policy in accordance with the supposed needs of the international community and if war is to be decided upon, it must be the whole government deliberating upon the step. Only a fully united nation – as expressed by the will of President and Congress combined – should go to war.
Unfortunately, American foreign policy hasn’t been like this at all. We’ve tied ourselves to nations the defense of which is not vital to our security. We’ve gone to war repeatedly without Congressional debate and official declaration of war. We’ve essentially subordinated American policy to what other nations prefer.
In hindsight, it is clear that if the United States was going to war in Korea – as I said, what I consider correct policy – then the President should have called Congress together and asked for a declaration of war against North Korea. Had we followed this course, our effort would not have been cursed with the title of “police action” and, additionally, China’s intervention – which turned a short, victorious war in to a drawn out, bloody stalemate – would have been far less likely. This is because they would have known, in advance, that intervention meant full scale war with the United States; this being something China was not at all prepared for and not at all wanted by the Chinese government. The ultimate end to such an action would have been a united Korea – not a half century stand off with a now nuclear armed North Korea being used as a cat’s paw by China.
Vietnam also stands out as a huge mistake in this light – though Congressional approval was sought for the war, it wasn’t an official declaration of war and it wasn’t, most importantly, a declaration of war against North Vietnam. The resultant twilight sort of quasi-war we wound up with was a nightmare we could have done without. If we were going to fight, might as well fight all the way. Once again, if US foreign policy is to wind up asking the noblest sacrifices of youth, it had better be for something more than just chasing an enemy around the jungle while his base of operations is partially off limits to counter action.
Fast forward to the War on Terrorism. Shortly after 9/11, it occurred to me that the key to winning was to take out the Saddamite regime in Baghdad. As we were fighting a war against a set of ideologies best described as Islamo-fascist, our interest was to take down the whole apparatus which supported the propagation of said ideology. The nations which had to come under US fire in this struggle were Libya, Syria, Iraq and Iran – while the initial enemy attack originated in Afghanistan, neither that nation nor the al Qaeda terrorists harbored there were of decisive importance.
Had we not been stuck in a policy where we would wage war without a declaration and where we had to conform our actions, at least to an extent, to the demands of the international community (in this case, of course, the UN – the same UN where our enemies actually get a say in whether or not war will be waged against them!), we could have done much more, and more swiftly.
President Bush did hit upon just what it was we were fighting and in turning his attention to the Saddamite regime, he identified one of the correct targets. He also sought Congressional approval but, once again, it wasn’t an official declaration of war. At bottom, is was an appropriations bill – President Bush got permission to use funds to support military operations against Iraq. No fault to President Bush for not being able to break out of decades of terrible policy precedents, but that doesn’t change the fact that we were locked in to a bad system.
After 9/11, we had to decide just what our policy would be. We could do a lot of things from surrendering all the way to flattening the entire middle east. In my view, the correct policy was to dismantle the socio-political system which allowed Islamo-fascism to flourish. But if we are to decide upon that course – and, essentially, that is what President Bush did decide – then we have to be free from subordination to the desires of others and very clear on what we’re going to do.
Unfortunately, the barnacles of prior, bad policy hampered us. We were, for instance, committed to the defense of Saudi Arabia – a nation which funded a lot of enemy action (even if not officially) and which had a vested interest in not changing the socio-political dynamic (antique, corrupt oligarchies like that which run Saudi Arabia are not noted for the desire to change things). We were committed to going through the United Nations – where our outright enemies got to work against us, and some supposed “friends” had vested interests in hamstringing our actions…and, to cap it off, we were (and are) committed to the military defense of some of those false friends! In such a morass of conflicting interests developing a coherent American policy and carrying it forward with vigor proved impossible.
Absent such things, we could have declared war against Afghanistan (didn’t need to fight there, but foreign policy must also take in to consideration domestic political desires – the immediate enemy came from there and the American people wanted them taken out), and then against Iraq. And, at need, against Syria, Libya and Iran, as that proved necessary. And if they declared war against us because they figured we were coming for them in the by and by, so much the better – as it was better for us in WWII that Hitler declared war on us rather than wait for us to put him on the target list.
A new, American foreign must free itself from the shackles of the past and be made only in accordance with American interests. Treaties are not meant – and never were meant – to be forever. They are expedients designed to take care of a particular issue and their reason for being evaporates once the reason for their creation vanishes (thus NATO has no point – it was built to confront the USSR, which no longer exists). No more UN, no more NATO, no more of any treaty which has outlived its usefulness – just America, working with or against nations in the world based upon the needs of American policy.
In my view, American foreign policy requires the following:
1. That the United States set itself as the opponent, all the time and everywhere, against non-democratic nations.
2. That the United States never allow a free nation to fall to non-democratic aggression.
3. That the superb American military only be deployed to fight wars, and only after an official declaration of same by Congress.
4. That international trade agreements, if they are to be made, only be made with democratic nations.
5. The most important thing for America (to be explained below).
America, like it or not, stands as the bulwark of liberty in the world and unless we one day wish to find ourselves alone against an unfree world united against us, we must offer succor to any threatened free nation. This does not mean we have to go to war each time a free nation feels merely threatened or has to engage in some armed conflict, but it must be made clear to all unfree nations that any attempt to subjugate a free nation will result in war with the United States.
Unfree nations are a standing threat to the United States – always have been, always will be. Oil and water are more akin than the United States and any unfree nation. We have no national interest in having anything other than the minimum relations required with such nations. Any relations other than those necessary to ensure swift and accurate communication between nations is detrimental to the United States as it lends legitimacy to illegitimate governments (as Americans, we either hold to the Declaration’s assertion that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, or we’re no longer Americans. Period.) as well as allowing them access to our ability to build wealth and power. Dealing with tyrannical regimes is just selling them the rope with which they hope to hang us.
Our military must always be maintained at a level second to none – not in numbers (because bulk doesn’t necessarily mean a strong military), but in the ability to swiftly project power all around the globe. Coupled with which power-projection ability, there must be the most lethal force imaginable. Our military must be of the sort not just to fight a war, but to utterly destroy an enemy who dares challenge us – and once deployed, our military must never be held short of absolute and crushing victory. Only once an enemy begs for peace at any price should our military be called off. This force must only be used when absolutely necessary and not as a police force designed to provide assurance to allies. Allies are fine, for certain efforts, but they must understand that the primary defense in the initial stages of a fight, must come from them. We’ll be along swiftly, but they must – if they feel threatened and thus want an alliance with us – keep a military at a fever pitch of readiness. No more free rides on the back of the United States military.
The United States does not need any particular trading partner. The stark fact is that no one nation out there has anything the United States may not obtain internally, or elsewhere. Trading with the United States must be treated by the United States government as a valuable privilege, only to be granted in light of American foreign policy needs. Right now, for instance, it is not in our interests to provide export earnings to China, and so we should not be allowing Chinese goods in to the United States. On the flip side, the growing threat of China to America’s position in the world does make it in our interests to build up nations such as India, Vietnam, Thailand and Taiwan – and one of the best things we can do to help in this matter is to allow such nations easy access to our markets. Its really quite simple – do we want to buy our cheap, manufactured goods from a potential enemy, or from a potential friend? Do we want the Chinese government to use our money to buy weapons which may one day be turned on our soldiers, or would we prefer our money to go towards the arming of the Indians, who may one day fight along side us against China?
Romantic notions about the world all coming together must be set aside. So must sentimental attachments, such as our alliance with nations like Germany and France. Policy must be set in light of what we need or might need in order to carry out policy. Our goal must be to ensure that no nation out there – or combination of nations – will ever have the power to enforce their desires upon us. What advances this policy is what we should do – what is detrimental to such policy must not be done.
Underlying such a policy prescription is, also, what is most important for the United States of America – that our policy be conducted so that it is irreproachable from a moral point of view. To make deals with dictators or allow our policy to be hamstrung by the demands of corrupt foreign governments lowers America. It debases our greatness and cheats us of the position the sacrifices of our forefathers gained for us. We must do what is right – and if we free ourselves from defending dictators, consorting with corrupt international bodies and allowing people to loaf on the backs of our soldiers, we will be once again free to do what is right, and thus what is in our best interest.