Though the Western Allies all paid lip service throughout the Cold War to the desirability of the reunification of Germany, when this became a real prospect, in 1989, Britain’s Margaret Thatcher and France’s François Mitterrand, as well as Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, were opposed, since all three countries, with ample historical reason, feared a united Germany, as Europeans had throughout history. Only the United States was not afraid of a united Germany, and President George H. W. Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker worked with West German chancellor Helmut Kohl to end this radical and artificial division of Europe’s most powerful nationality. In doing so, they repaid the post-war world’s greatest single act of statesmanship, by the first West German chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, who declined Stalin’s offer of reunification in exchange for neutrality and carried national opinion with his assertion that, since Bismarck’s time, Germany had sought allies and now it had them and would remain with them and would win reunification, peacefully, with them. This was America’s great achievement: a decisive role in the defeat of Nazism, Fascism, Japanese imperialism, and international Communism, and the democratization and economic modernization of vast tracts of Europe, Asia, and Latin America, including much successful decolonization.
This era is ending as the United States steadily withdraws from many areas and effectively renounces any serious interest in many places where it was long very active and even assertive. As I have written here before, that is not, in itself, a bad thing, but it is bad when, as now, the U.S. administration denies that this is what it is doing and muddies the water with a lot of vacuous posturing about “red lines,” “crippling sanctions,” and forced denuclearization of Iran still being an option “on the table.” Wise statesmen retreat from overexposed positions, but they do it by redefining the reconciliation of the vital and the possible in their national interest, clearly and believably, with the requisite force and demonstrated determination to execute the evolving policy. They do not fecklessly abandon policy positions and alliances that were heroically and successfully staked out and maintained, and pat themselves on their backs and heads for both continuity and originality at the same time while defaming their domestic critics as warmongers or isolationist philistines.
Both the ebbing away of time and the implacable absence of aptitude militate against the possibility that this administration, and the almost completely unfeasible quintet of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, and Susan Rice, will actually devise and implement a consistent and sensible foreign or national-security policy anywhere. But at least it is not too late for them to try to enunciate such a definition of a national-security interest. In quest of this, and in the spirit of Shakespeare’s Henrician call to do it one more time, I read the president’s recent speech at West Point. It was, as has been widely remarked, a great disappointment, even for one whose hopes for the occasion were as undernourished as mine. There was only the usual platitudinous waffling, which would be more endurable if it were possible to believe that the sentiments espoused (democracy, the American Way, etc.) were really embraced by the speaker. It was another presentation of weakness as moral courage, and the imputation of psychotic bellicosity or sociopathic isolationism to his critics. The White House said the president resurrected the possible use of force to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear military power; and Iran stated that the president had confirmed that he had renounced the option of force.
This is not leadership. It is not even, in Margaret Thatcher’s expression, “followership.” It is just incoherence and vacuity. I wish everyone a pleasant summer and hope that when I return there are more encouraging subjects to address.
— Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, A Matter of Principle, and Flight of the Eagle: The Grand Strategies That Brought America from Colonial Dependence to World Leadership. He can be reached at [email protected].