Through a Glass Darkly

As I read James Dobbins’s plea to return “to the basics of statecraft”, reproduced at The RAND Blog, I could barely make out the outlines of actual events in his characterization of the events of the last 30 years:

Since the turn of the century, even America’s apparent successes have turned sour. Afghanistan and Iraq became quagmires. Al Qaeda metastasized in new forms throughout the Muslim world. Russia and China became more hostile. The Arab Spring turned quickly to winter. Democracy everywhere encountered new headwinds. The Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal and the Trans-Pacific Partnership were concluded, then rejected. An ever-growing number of books and articles bemoan the demise of the liberal world order, the erosion of democracy, and the end of the American century.

I couldn’t help but wonder how he reconciles any of the following with that worldview:

  • The U. S.’s systematic dismissal and hostility towards Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union?
  • Stationing troops in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?
  • That the Muslim world has always had violent separatist movements? It is what you would expect in a sola scriptura faith without a magisterium whose holy book can be interpreted as condoning political violence.
  • The drone war?
  • The bombing of Libya in support of the removal of Qaddaffi?

I also wondered when in the post-war period China had ever been anything other than hostile to the United States?

In light of the enormous gap between the way Mr. Dobbins apparently sees the United States and our place in the world and mine, let me offer some of the my thoughts on the basics of American statecraft.

The United States is not the United Kingdom or France. We do not have an identifiable foreign policy, crafted by elites and coherent over time. Our foreign policy is an emergent phenomenon formed day to day by politicians, diplomats, American businesses, and the American people.

Whenever military force is used in pursuit of an objective that is war. War should never be used except as a last resort. If you can subject it to cost-benefit analysis, you should not go to war.

When our military is ultimately used, it should be decisive and dispositive.

We should never, ever go to war without enlisting the American people in the war effort first.

Our diplomats need to understand their role. They are not the sole creators of our foreign policy and they serve at the pleasure of the president.

We need diplomats with a solid core of American social and political values.

Most Americans aren’t much interested in American Empire, spreading democracy at the point of a sword, or ensuring that a few large companies prosper. They want to be secure in their property and persons, have a job, have a reasonable level of comfort in their lives, and not be fearful for their futures. They want to be able to come home after work and watch television.

What the American people want is important in our foreign policy. It isn’t the only important thing but it is important.

And i haven’t even gotten to the role of the president and the risks in persistently electing presidents who have little or no knowledge of foreign policy and little interest in it.

1 comment… add one
  • Roy Lofquist Link

    “persistently electing presidents who have little or no knowledge of foreign policy and little interest in it.”

    We sure missed a bet with Hillary.

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