2016 is a good year to be observing what people in the United States are saying about foreign policy.
There are new and dangerous currents in U.S. politics which may affect foreign policy. To try to understand where these dark swirling waters may be taking us, we must admit the possibility of the Unthinkable, the Absurd, the kind of Unreason that swept all of the highly intelligent and educated men and women of Europe first into the vortex of World War I (1914-1918), and then into the maelstrom of Nazi Germany (1932-1945) and World War II (1939-1945) with all of its horrors and destruction.
No European, or American, could have imagined in 1914, 1932, or 1939 the horrors that were to come as Unreason gained the upper hand in the minds and actions of men.
It is with a certain foreboding, therefore, similar perhaps to that some must have felt in Europe and America in the early 20th century as Unreason mounted the saddle and gained ascendency in the affairs of men, that one dares to think about a rational U.S. foreign policy in 2017.
In America, we now have as our Republican presidential candidate a Clown who will say anything, and a willing press corps that purports to take him seriously, no matter what buffoonery he espouses.
He says he would give the Crimea to Putin.
Yet Hillary Clinton does not make any serious effort to explain to the American people why this is a disastrous idea.
This is a “teachable moment”, but Hillary is so enmeshed in the grinding gears of her campaign machine and narrative, she doesn’t even make the effort to go for Trump’s jugular on this point.
Who is to say she has not adopted the wiser couse.? She’s doing well in the polls.
Of course that could change. She may yet regret not going for Trump’s jugular on the Crimea.
Yet someone must make the argument, and begin to educate he American people about foreign policy. For if they don’t have leaders who can explain to them the basics of foreign policy, it is hard to see how a serious U.S. foreign policy can be formulated and executed beginning in 2017.
The Clown wants to give the Crimea to Putin. Why not?
Russian aircraft using Iranian air bases bomb al-Assad’s rebel opponents in Syria. Is that a problem? We are, after all at Obama’s direction “working through the Russians” in Syria, are we not?
The Clown campaigns for the presidency on a platform of torture. So?
Hillary cannot be bothered to give a detailed speech on how torture is wrong and violates our deepest values. To do so could cost her votes, she must think.
Expediency is the name of the game in 2016. Neither candidate is laying down bedrock principles which would govern his or her foreign policy in 2017.
In a way, it is a shame the Reublicans nominated the Clown, thereby sparing Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton any serious criticism for the foreign policy fiascos of the Obama administration.
The bad news is almost too extensive to enumerate. A new Axis of Evil is taking root in the Middle East, with Russia, Iran, Hesbollah and Iraqi Shia militias working together to maintain Bashar al-Assad in power in Syria. They are fighting against the Western-backed rebels seeking to overthrow al-Assad.
Meanwhile, Barack Obama is working with the Russians, testing them to see if they will do what they promise to do in Syria. He seems oblivious to their track record in Syria over the last five years. Or to simply not care.
He is winning “his war” in Syria — not to get the U.S. involved in efforts to force al-Assad to leave. No matter what the consequences.
In the South China Sea, China continues to build up its military capabilities in defiance of international law, as the World Court recently made clear.
In Europe, Putin plots and maneuvers to weaken NATO and Europe. The pacifists and appeasers among Europe’s leaders are constantly looking for ways to ease the burden of sanctions on Russia, without addressing the causes that led to their imposition.
Meanwhile, Putin has put into play a massive yet nimble propaganda apparatus throughout Europe and in many other countries. The U.S. has hardly begun to respond, though the Voice of America and Radio Liberty continue to do an outstanding job with very limited resources. They are, however, no match for Putin’s propaganda machine.
In Turkey, the key NATO member and great secular democracy founded by Ataturk, Tayib Erdowan is proceeding to take down the last vestiges of the rule of law in the country. He has stripped his opponents from their positions in the media, the judiciary,, and the military and the police, dismissing tens of thousands without due process of law. He has also recently launched a rapprochement with Russia.
Barack Obama has already checked out of the White House. No one is running U.S. foreign policy right now. Instead of attending to safeguarding the nation’s foreign policy interests, he is looking for gimmicks such as a declaration on “no first use of nuclear weapons” to burnish his legacy. or trying to filfill his promise to close Guantanamo by expediting the departure of is inmates.
Things fall apart. The center does not hold.
What we must do at this precise time, at least for a moment, is to suspend our deep and long-held beliefs in what foreign policy principles must be upheld, so we can see and understand what is actually taking place before our eyes.
Everywhere, it seems, the deepest values of our Western civilization are violated with impunity. Barbarism has replaced humanitarian law or the laws of war in Syria. In public discussions by leaders in the U.S. and elsewhere, we hear few defenses of the human values underlying such legal norms, which date to the U.S. Civil War.
A nation like Russia can invade a European nation and annex part of it, yet many leaders seem clueless as to the principles and issues at stake.
“Let Putin have the Crimea,” Donald Trump cries out.
“Let Hitler have the Sudetenland,” Chamberlin and Daladier cried out almost 80 years ago, as the great Unreason swept through Europe.
Everywhere, no one seems to be in control. Everywhere, national leaders seem clueless as to the fundamental principles of international politics upon which any international order, any international peace and security, might be founded.
Everywhere political leaders seem to have a very complicated realtionship with the Truth.
Everywhere, the defenders of Western values seem to have lost faith in the two bedrock principles upon which international peace and security have been built since World War II: 1) nations are prohibited from invading other countries; and 2) the sanctity of the human person, the fundamental human rights of all human beings, must be protected from violation by governments.
Yet these pillars of civilization seem to be giving way.
This is the new Unreason which like a tsunami threatens to push aside everything in the way of its dark swirling waters, which may take us far from where we want to be.
If indeed we survive.
The Trenchant Observer