“Never underestimate the role of fad in American life”, my old friend Milton Sachs, historian, Brandeis University professor, used to say.
This season’s fashion is denigrating the power, historic role and the U.S.’ indispensable place in preserving world stability and prosperity. Whether it comes from the Chief Executive or one of the lesser talking heads, the pattern is pretty much the same, inane arguments for American decline.
Ignoring the pivotal world role of the American economy, its leadership in leading technologies, its military prowess, and its history of generosity for likeminded nations and even former enemies, we hear a wailing song of false humility from American commentators. And then there’s the echo chamber abroad for, as always, U.S. pop culture dominates the rest of the world.
The U.S. still remains the society – with all its defects – which has given more people more comfort and hope than any in world history. If that rings of American chauvinism, make the most of it because it is obvious to any student of history, particularly of the bloody 20th century.
But with virtually all his foreign policy initiatives, conceived in historical ignorance and implemented by rank amateurs who nevertheless are ideologues, the U.S. is currently led by Handwringer-in-Chief. With “leading from behind” having failed on all fronts, we are now treated to elaborate obfuscation covering a basic lack of resolve.
Idiotic “opinion polls” are used to measure “anti-Americanism” as a basis of policy. It isn’t clear exactly how one polls illiterate, impoverished societies with elites mesmerized by Westernization combined with traditional feudal corruption. Without knowledge but strong prejudices about the U.S. past – who studies history any more? – American elitists forget how every major post-World II successful initiative was fraught, opposed by large constituencies in the U.S. as well as Europe.
The list is long: vast sums gifted European reconstitution despite the bitter history of World War I debt defaults, the formation of an anti-Soviet alliance, NATO, in 1949 against powerful internal European Communist movements, organization of the Bundesrepublik despite the unspeakable horror of Nazi crimes, meeting North Korean-Russian aggression even after the entry of Chinese forces, the about-face on Japanese reconstruction in 1950 with the memories of its military’s atrocities still fresh, the rearming of Germany only recently an almost invincible enemy, the deployment of American missiles in Europe against neutralists and anti-Americanism, Reagan’s identification of “the evil empire” and opposition within his own White House to his “Tear down this Wall” speech and its implicit strategy, etc., etc.
President-by-accident Harry Truman bested towering, arrogant Gen. George Marshall and the State Department to recognize Israel, the Jews won a miraculous victory over eight Arab aggressors, and Washington got its only dependable ally in the Mideast. Ditto Truman vs. Marshall on desegregation of the military and the incorporation of the Negro into the American mainstream.
Strategies and policies are never made in a vacuum, nor are they foolproof, nor can they be made, for the most part, with unanimity. That is what leadership is all about.
And today the U.S. continues to be challenged everywhere in its role as world stabilizer:
Vladimir Putin blusters, his economy in shambles and the nth try for a military reform since the fall of the Soviet Union stumbling. His KGB heritage produces that old role of the Russian bully. But on the eve of the collapse of gas prices, his only mainstay, faced with the explosion of shale gas, Putin has become the world’s No. 1 bluffer. Washington’s response reminds one of that old Russian Yiddish saying, “He is the kind of man who when you spit in his face, says it is raining.” Washington-Moscow relations has turned into a farce when Putin publicly “warns” an American traitor he mustn’t reveal more secrets embarrassing Washington, while he pockets any intelligence tidbits. Handwringing replaces the obvious American counters – refusal to attend a binominal summit Putin needs for prestige, and cancellation of our participation in the Sochi Olympic Winter Games, already in deep trouble as Putin lavishes billions on a crippled enterprise.
Even the most enthusiastic propagandist for China’s remarkable but totally flawed Great Leap Forward II is questioning the torrent of clichés about Beijing’s now wilting prosperity. The New York Times’ insider-trading propagandist, Paul Krugman, awakens to having accepted fake statistics. Beijing, they say, has hit a new Great Wall. But the Obama Administration answer to Beijing’s classic mercantilism is impotence. The greatest U.S. unemployment crisis since The Great Depression is in part an outgrowth of the enormous increase in productivity brought on by the digital revolution. But China’s trade policies are equally culpable. Foreign Service Officers at State continue a siren song of appeasement. The Administration refuses the lever of naming China as a currency manipulator and slapping on compensatory charges. That, we are told, would start a trade war!—whatever is going on now apparently isn’t…
When. Gen. Charles de Gaulle’s search for “gloire” led him to threaten to cripple NATO, Lyndon Johnson led the 12 other alliance members to decamp Paris for Brussels. America’s paramount contribution was upheld, the French tagged along sheepishly, and the most successful alliance in history marched on to the implosion of its major adversary in 1990. An even more dysfunctional French government now sabotages rapid progress in forming a trans-Atlantic free trade regime. But Washington is intimidated and dawdles over the most important single foreign lever for economic recovery.
When –after a secretary of state in a public statement had placed it outside the American zone of concern, North Korea and its Soviet, and later Chinese, allies launched the attack on South Korea, Pres. Harry Truman called his advisers and asked what he should do and did it. Unfortunately, as in Vietnam, and now apparently in Afghanistan and Iraq, a tired American public in a democratic society pressures to abandon the task half finished. Still a bankrupt, famine-stricken Pyongyang understands that its only hope is to blackmail its neighbors and the U.S. with the threat of developing nuclear weapons. Not Washington nor Tokyo nor Seoul will dissuade them in the end, since there is no retreat for such a regime except collapse. Only China, its seemingly reluctant ally, can alter the equation and only U.S, pressure on Beijing on this and other issues will produce results. Washington’s dawdling is inevitably pushing its Japanese ally toward nuclear weapons which will again complicate an already out of control strategy to limit proliferation.
Leaderless policy has come a cropper in the Mideast, too, where after rejection after rejection, the Obama Administration seeks “a diplomatic solution” – ignoring the Tehran mullahs’ state terrorism now as far afield as Latin America. Trumpeting sanctions, lifted for most of Iran’s trading partners, is less than a strategy to prevent Tehran acquiring nuclear weapons and delivery systems. That would make Iran the Mideast hegemonic power, not only threatening our principal ally in the area, Israel, but giving them a stranglehold on Persian Gulf oil. John Brennan of Arabia, the CIA chief, contends that the Moslem Brotherhood [whom even the Saudis religious fanatics now oppose] is just a Mideast version of the German and Italian Christian Democrats. No wonder we find Saudi Arabia trying to mobilize an anti-Iran alliance while Washington? …wrings its hands.
Sec. of State John Kerry, whose credentials have been his tourism abroad, now trumpets the reinauguration of Israeli-Palestinian “negotiations”. Yet there is no Palestinian partner, split between former corrupt “secularists” and the new Hamas Islamic fanatics, “West Bank” vs. “Gaza”. Israel’s “concessions” to get the talks underway again are cosmetic. Obviously no Israeli government would risk still another Islamicist state on its eastern frontier. Meanwhile, the second state in the two-state formula already exists, created out of the original 1920s League of Nations British Mandate. Jordan is struggling as usual to survive. With more than 350,000 Syrian refugees who may never go home, Abdullah II – a Hamlet figure in his Vanity Fair interview – looks to Washington for dollars support against his own Palestinian majority and an empty treasury. There’s a good deal of handwringing there, too.
In Latin America, once America’s backyard and a principal trading partner, Washington abdicated leadership to what were supposed to be developing democracies. Instead, we have an overly ambitious Brazil beset by its same old problems. Argentina, once the center of Spanish-language culture in the New World, is isolated and irrelevant. New demagogues arisen in Venezuela, and even little Ecuador, make twisting the Eagle’s tailfeathers their principal claim for governing. Holding the principal market for Venezuelan oil – not the most attractive crude — is a weapon which could be used to bring Caracas into line. But Washington even hesitates to cut off aid to Ecuador in the face of its welcoming American traitors. With the Castro brothers finally defeated by demographics, Washington goes soft on Havana encouraging transition to a new depostic regime. And there is more handwringing about the deteriorating relations with Latin America.
But as with all fads, this too will pass. Ronald Reagan, too, faced belittling the American inheritance when he came to the presidency. Ironically, Jimmy Carter, rejected instinctively by an American public, still rants and raves from the sidelines, for he, too is a handwringer of the old vintage. But it is the Reagan resurgence that even his once bitter critics now look back to for inspiration and it will come.