After The Last Four Administrations We Need To Try Something New
Published on June 30, 2018
In her May 3 Wall Street Journal column, "A Dog's Breakfast of a Dinner," Peggy Noonan made an obvious, but frequently overlooked, observation. She reminded us that America is not alone in the World. International leaders and diplomats are listening very closely to America's political conversations and are likely deeply concerned that America's political debates have deteriorated to the point that civil discourse among our political leaders has become a quaint, historical concept. The United States, once viewed as the "bastion of democracy," appears neither as strong nor as committed to the role.
Although the political divisiveness in America cuts across almost every important issue, international diplomats assigned to Washington, naturally, focus more on America's foreign and national security policy debates. These have centered on heavy criticism from America's international affairs policy elites of President Trump's "America First" emphasis in his foreign policy. This, they assert, is inimical to the post World War II "world order" that the United States (and its international policy elites) had a dominant hand in creating.
But the same international diplomats who have been recently writing "banal weekly reports" home about our domestic political divisions and foreign policy debates, or their predecessors, have been writing home for the last quarter-century. Reading their reports have been cadres of highly-educated intelligence analysts, who compare favorably with America's own. We can all agree that graduates from Heidelberg, Oxford, Le Sorbonne, or the top Universities in China and Russia are every bit as talented and skilled at "time-series" policy analysis of the words, intent, and effects of American foreign policy as graduates from Harvard, Princeton, or any other major American university write about foreign countries.
In the January 29, 1991, speech to launch the international effort to drive Iraq from Kuwait, President George H.W. Bush said that America's purpose was to create a "New World Order" in which "... diverse nations are drawn together in common cause to achieve the universal aspirations of mankind -- peace and security, freedom, and the rule of law. Such is a world worthy of our struggle and worthy of our children's future." For better or worse, these words have underpinned the foreign policy of the last four presidents and the national security elite that served them.
The Middle East, South Asia, and Africa, in particular, have felt the full impact of U.S. foreign policy's pursuit of these aims, and the results have been quite the opposite of the intent. Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and Yemen have all experienced American-led or supported military interventions. All six countries are currently experiencing civil war and some have descended into anarchy. Tens of thousands have died and millions have fled their homes. All of them have become havens for Islamist political ideologies that are antithetical to everything the post –World War II order stands for. In most Middle Eastern countries, especially Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, peace, security, freedom, and the rule of law are nowhere to be found. Meanwhile, the violence and ideas that groups like ISIS, Al-Qaida, Al-Shabab, and Boko Haram practice not only threaten the peace and stability of these countries and their neighbors, but the entire world.
We are not alone, and international politicians, diplomats, and intelligence analysts examining this record can have no doubt about the chaotic impact of American foreign policy, and they have assuredly concluded that these conditions threaten their own respective countries' sovereignty. Their faith in the words of American leaders must be substantially reduced, and their actions suggest that they are questioning the real intent of American foreign policy. Is it any wonder that America's "coalitions of the willing" have shrunk in number over the past quarter century and that even the need for NATO is being questioned, despite the reappearance of a resurgent and revanchist Russia as a major competitor or the growth of China into a similar role in Asia?
Psychologists consider repeating the same actions with the hope of achieving different results to be a form of insanity. President Trump has signaled that America should change course, that it should be more realistic about its foreign policies and that our words, intent, and effects should be better aligned. His determination to fulfill his campaign promises reinforces such an interpretation. Given the global chaos and reduction in America's influence that the foreign policies favored by America's policy elite has sown over the past 25 years, maybe a policy grounded in American national interests that delivers intended results can restore America's credibility, integrity, and world leadership. It might even reduce chaos and strengthen the international system.