Are we stupid abroad by accident or design?
In the manner of a doctor, let us review the symptoms of our present foreign policy and then offer a diagnosis:
Autocratic and dictatorial Russia has become a veritable friend. America will say very little about the Russian government’s involvement in the chronic assassination of journalists and dissidents. We don’t mind passing along nuclear-weapon information about our British allies to Russia if it furthers better relations with Moscow and results in a treaty. We apparently are more worried about offending Vladimir Putin than about offending our Polish and Czech allies. We eagerly sign an arms treaty that most people believe favors Russia more than ourselves, and we shrug when Russia does not, as promised, help thwart Iranian nuclear proliferation.
In the last three budget years, we have borrowed $4 trillion, some of it from China, mostly to expand our existing entitlements, almost all of which China does not extend to its own people. We cannot quite assure Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, or the Philippines of past levels of support, since we are worried that our old high military profile would now only provoke Chinese sensibilities. And yet we are depressed when our creditor China in turn seems to resent even the barest mention of its deplorable human-rights violations or its treatment of Tibet.
America vows not to “meddle” on behalf of Iranian dissidents, reaches out to Syria, and was initially silent in the face of Libyan atrocities — in a landscape in which we earlier declared Hosni Mubarak a dictator, and not a dictator, who should depart kinda yesterday, if he did not stay on for a transition to a military dictatorship, which might in turn oversee elections some day that might include the Muslim Brotherhood, which is sorta nonviolent and kinda secular.
In the last two years scarcely a week has gone by in which we did not in some way criticize democratic and once allied Israel. Perhaps if the Israeli government had stoned some homosexuals, or assassinated a leading Lebanese reform figure, or bombed its own cities, we might either have kept silent or publicly promised not to meddle in Israeli affairs. Or we might have apologized for something we purportedly did decades ago that offended Israeli sensibilities.
The Guantanamo Bay detention center is al-Qaeda’s chief recruiting tool, and that is precisely why we closed it — at least virtually. Military tribunals, renditions, preventive detention, and Predator drone attacks during the Bush administration raised “serious” constitutional questions, and that is why we, also virtually, stopped all such problematic protocols. An architect of 9/11, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, is currently facing a virtual civilian trial in Manhattan. Iraq is both our worst disaster and our greatest achievement. As proof that we are withdrawing according to set deadlines from Afghanistan, we are sending thousands more troops there.
Terrorism of the home-grown kind is now a “grave” concern, and that is why we do not use the offensive terms “Islamist” or “jihad,” and have evolved to nomenclature like “overseas contingency operations” for “war on terror” and “man-caused disasters” for “terrorism” — although one may doubt that any serious American security official has ever phoned his European counterpart to discuss joint “overseas contingency operations” against “man-caused disasters.” When jihadists strike, they do so “allegedly” until formally convicted, and the resulting American uproar and threats to diversity programs can be as serious a concern as the actual terrorist operation. Formerly one-dimensional agencies like NASA now have new expanded missions, namely, reaching out to the Muslim world.
In the theoretical sphere, we are unsure that America is any more “exceptional” than, say, Greece, since such perceptions are always relative and merely rest in the eye of the beholder. Britain certainly does not really hold a “special relationship” with the United States in the past Churchillian or Thatcherian sense. And there is a greater need to fly abroad to lobby for a Chicago Olympics than there is to visit Germany to commemorate the downfall of Communism. France, hitherto not known for having greater idealism than the United States, from time to time reminds us that centrifuges are still “spinning” in Iran.