That title is a bit of a paraphrase – a quote attributed to Bismarck:
“There is a special Providence for Fools, Drunkards and the United States of America.”
Bismarck, of course, lived in Europe at the acme of it’s power in the world and was dealing with a host of Nations in Arms, all competing furiously for wealth and position. Looking across the Atlantic, he probably envied the position of the United States…harmless neighbors north and south, oceans east and west…no need to play a deep game of power. To be sure, Bismarck was the ruin of a civilization – he instructed Europe that lying is ok, that increasing the power of the State is the only reason for living and that calculated military aggression is a useful tool in securing diplomatic ends. As a genius, Bismarck could handle that sort of thing easily – but genius only shows up every now and again, and his successors (and imitators in other lands) simply couldn’t do it, and so they unleashed Armageddon in the form of World War One. But he at least had a rational foreign policy. We don’t.
I bring this up because of a revealing article about how Obama’s foreign policy (so called) was presented to the American people by Ben Rhodes, described as someone who has a “mind meld” with the President:
…Rhodes singled out a key example to me one day, laced with the brutal contempt that is a hallmark of his private utterances. “All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus,” he said. “Now they don’t. They call us to explain to them what’s happening in Moscow and Cairo. Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington. The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”
In this environment, Rhodes has become adept at ventriloquizing many people at once. Ned Price, Rhodes’s assistant, gave me a primer on how it’s done. The easiest way for the White House to shape the news, he explained, is from the briefing podiums, each of which has its own dedicated press corps. “But then there are sort of these force multipliers,” he said, adding, “We have our compadres, I will reach out to a couple people, and you know I wouldn’t want to name them — ”…
…“And I’ll give them some color,” Price continued, “and the next thing I know, lots of these guys are in the dot-com publishing space, and have huge Twitter followings, and they’ll be putting this message out on their own.”
This is something different from old-fashioned spin, which tended to be an art best practiced in person. In a world where experienced reporters competed for scoops and where carrying water for the White House was a cause for shame, no matter which party was in power, it was much harder to sustain a “narrative” over any serious period of time. Now the most effectively weaponized 140-character idea or quote will almost always carry the day, and it is very difficult for even good reporters to necessarily know where the spin is coming from or why…
If you read the whole article, you’ll find one rather interesting fact about Rhodes – he doesn’t know anything, either. And, of course, by experience we have learned that President Obama doesn’t know anything about foreign policy. But here’s the kicker: both Obama and Rhodes are convinced that they do know what’s what in foreign affairs. Convinced that they are in the know, further convinced that everyone else is too stupid to rise to their level of understanding, they set about creating a completely false narrative to support their cause. As is later detailed in the article, Rhodes and Obama spun the story that the Iran deal was the result of an electoral rejection of “hard liners” in Iran, which now gave us a chance to engage the “moderates” and come to a deal which would allow us to disengage from the Middle East, as our new-found “moderate” friends in Iran took the load. Of course, the reality is that there are no “moderates” in Iranian government – no one is allowed to be in Iranian government unless they are pleasing to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, whom no one considers a moderate in any way, shape or form. Obama and Rhodes feel – perhaps correctly – that disengagement from the Middle East is the right policy…but they decided that the way to get their views across was to lie about it. And use force (in this case, essentially using US force to help Iran and Iranian clients to prevail in military conflicts) to secure diplomatic ends. As I noted earlier, a genius can get away with this sort of thing (at least for a while) – a Bismarck, that is (or, if you want to get into obscure history – but history you should know in detail, especially if you want to discuss foreign affairs – a Kaunitz or a Metternich could get away with this). But we’ve got Obama and Rhodes, who between the two of them never served in the military (ie, learned the trade of that which provides the force behind diplomatic initiatives), nor in the foreign service (where you actually get a chance to learn how foreigners view things). It could be that both men read deeply into foreign affairs, but I doubt it.
I doubt it because no rational policy of the United States would have it that Iran’s government would be the agent to relieve us of responsibility for the Middle East. To be sure, an Iran freed of the Mullahs would be precisely what we’d need – but while the Mullahs are in charge, nothing doing. They have ideas which are opposed to whatever we might want in the Middle East…as well as being involved in all sorts of radical Islamist groups who wish to do direct and bloody harm to the United States. As I noted, disengagement from the Middle East might be the correct policy for the United States right now – in fact, I wrote about just this a while back. It would be better if we could resign our position there to a nation roughly in tune with our desires (general peace, generally free trade, no export of war or poisonous ideology), but that is not possible – because the only nations which would likely fit the bill (Egypt, Turkey, Iran) all have fundamental flaws in these areas. Given this, our best bet it just to get out – let them stew with a promise that any attack on us or our allies will result in the destruction of the offending nation. But such a policy doesn’t not commend itself to people like Rhodes and Obama – because they don’t know anything, and what they do know is false (I’m betting that deep down they really believe that all Iranian enmity of the United States genuinely stems from the part we played in the Iranian coup of 1953).
But, on a deeper level, Obama and Rhodes are in line with long held American foreign policy – which has been pretty much all wrong ever since we emerged as a major power in the late 19th century. It has been wrong because Americans, by and large, don’t know the world. We don’t really understand it – because, as Bismarck noted, there is a special Providence for us. Mainly, we don’t have to really think about foreign policy…we are not now, and have not been for 150 years, at any risk of actual foreign invasion. That is the real genesis of foreign policy – desiring to invade, or trying to stop an invasion. If it wasn’t for that, no one would have to think about foreign policy, or have one. No one is going to invade us – and we don’t need to invade anyone because we’re not an imperialist power seeking to take over foreign lands for our own benefit (sorry, Progs – but “imperialism” is that and nothing else..if the intent isn’t to plant the flag there, then it isn’t imperialism…trying to expand the word to make anything you don’t like “imperialism” merely allows us on the right to accuse you of imperialism because you want, for instance, to impose your views on abortion on Third World nations). We don’t need a foreign policy – but, we’ve got one because various American leaders for ages and ages feel that our overall power requires us to have a foreign policy.
This itch to have a policy first manifested itself in a desire to join the League of Nations – later, when World War Two happened, it was blamed on the fact that we weren’t in the League, and so we joined the UN to make sure World War Two never happened again. Forgetting that even if we had been in the League, not a single darned thing in the 1930’s would have gone different…Germany and Japan left the League, after all. It also underpins NATO – and the shrieks of fear whenever anyone suggests that, just perhaps, we don’t need an alliance which was designed to “keep Germany down, the Russians out and America in”. Yes, Putin is making a mess of things and might spark an actual war and we might, in the event, want to stop him…in which case alliance with Poland and Britain would be all we need…where being allied with Spain works into that is unclear, unless you think that Spain would send an army to Poland (lotsa luck with that). And what does NATO do for us in the real geo-political challenge we face, China? You think that a NATO army will show up to help us defend South Korea or Taiwan?
We are Providentially still provided with harmless neighbors north and south and immense oceans east and west. We can engage, or pull back, as suits us. Shielded by our Navy and Air Force, with our nuclear arsenal as our ultimate fall-back, we are free to do as much or as little as we like in the world…and my view is that we should be doing little. It’s not like the world actually acts in gratitude for what we do – nor do our allies ever seem to pull their weight. The German army is all of 59,000 strong – it recently had to suspend its activities because the troops exceeded their over-time pay(!). Suppose Russia made a grab for Estonia (a distinct possibility), what are 59,000 Germans going to do? I’ll bet if we weren’t in NATO providing the overwhelming force then the German army would have a bit more than 59,000 troops and might prove a useful ally…and an ally that would be coming to us, hat in hand, asking for our help and giving us a good pay-back for our assistance in thwarting Russian aggression. On the other hand, being allied with Israel makes all kinds of sense – their army is 133,000 strong and is instantly ready for battle. If it weren’t for pressing defense needs for Israel, proper, then if Russia moved on Estonia we’d be better served moving the Israeli army there rather than the German. If push comes to shove and we ever have to go to full-scale war in the Middle East, Israel would be found ready and willing to fight – and would probably be very grateful we were there to help.
The proper foreign policy of the United States is to remain free from any entangling alliances. Do keep the word “entangling” in your mind – it was, of course, the word Washington used. Some try to explain this means we should have no alliances – but that can’t be what Washington meant because he knew full well that victory in the Revolutionary War depended upon our alliances with France and Spain. “Entangling” is what we want to avoid – alliances are fine, as long as they serve our needs and are dropped like a bad habit when the need no longer exists. Eternal alliances between nations works when it is Gondor allied with Rohan in Middle Earth…but here in our regular, old Earth things are a bit different. The sort of alliances we’ve got today, for the most part, don’t suit us. We are, after all, pledged to the defense of Turkey should Russia and Turkey go to war…which they might; and what benefit would we accrue by fighting Russians to the benefit of the Turks, who seem bent on their own push to revive the Caliphate?
Now, maybe best policy would be to defend the Turks – after all, the British and the French did precisely that in the Crimean War. But just a couple decades later, the British and the French stood aside while Russia beat heck out of the Turks in the Russo-Turkish War. Why was it different? Because Russia was grabbing for total power over Turkey in the former case, while Russia was just smashing the Turks after they went on a brutal rampage in Bulgaria in the latter. Different circumstances, different decisions…but suppose Britain, Turkey and France had created NATO in 1860…then the Brits and the French would have had to stand in defense of the Turks in 1877 just after they massacred 15,000 to 30,000 Bulgarians.
If I were to set up a system of alliances for the United States today, I’d have us tightly allied with Britain, Poland, Israel, India, Vietnam, Australia, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. Alliances with these nations suit our needs at the moment – if Russia or China or Iran (our three greatest challenges in the world) decide to try conclusions with us, then we’ve got alliances with nations bracketing all three potential foes – and all three providing genuine military power which complements American military power quite well. If circumstances change (democratic revolution in any of the three, for instance) then the alliances could well change. Holding on to an alliance (or a supra-national organization like the UN) just because it has been around for a while is silly (I do like the idea of a supra-national organization like the UN – but as it is currently constituted with things like France in the Security Council and India not, it is just an absurdity…a relic of the geo-political situation on September 2nd, 1945…long since past it’s sell-by date).
To keep just going along a treadmill of foreign policy divorced from the ever-changing circumstances of the world is destructive of America’s true interests. It leads us into conflicts we don’t need; prevents us from confronting rising foes, shackles us to the foreign policy desires of other nations, many of which have desires opposite of ours. Better to just shake free from it all, enjoy our Providential luck, and reshape our policy to suit us.