Tuesday, March 27, 2007

America, history's great Exception?

Several articles from recent months have looked at the need for a more realistic and less self-inflated foreign policy for the United States, including:

Twilight of the Republic? Seeds of Decline, Path to Renewal by Andrew Bacevich Commonweal 12/01/06 issue

Manifest Destiny: A New Direction for America by William Pfaff New York Review of Books 01/18/07 (02/15/07 issue)

Bacevich writes:

In his 2005 inaugural address, President George W. Bush declared the promulgation of freedom to be "the mission that created our nation." Fulfilling what he described as America’s "great liberating tradition" now requires that the United States devote itself to "ending tyranny in our world."

Many Americans find such sentiments compelling. Yet to credit the United States with possessing a "liberating tradition" is like saying that Hollywood has a "tradition of artistic excellence." The movie business is just that-a business. Its purpose is to make money. If once in a while the studios produce a film of aesthetic value, that may be cause for celebration; but profit, not revealing truth and beauty, defines the purpose of the enterprise. ...

Crediting America with a "great liberating tradition" sanitizes the past and obscures the actual motive force behind American politics and U.S. foreign policy. It transforms history into a morality tale and thereby provides a rationale for dodging serious moral analysis. To insist that the liberation of others has never been more than an ancillary motive of U.S. policy is not cynicism; it is a prerequisite to self-understanding. (my emphasis)
Pfaff writes:

The noninterventionist alternative to the policies followed in the United States since the 1950s is to minimize interference in other societies and accept the existence of an international system of plural and legitimate powers and interests. One would think the idea that nations are responsible for themselves, and that American military interference in their affairs is more likely to turn small problems into big ones than to solvethem, would appeal to an American public that believes in individual responsibility and the autonomy of markets, considers itself hostile to political ideology (largely unaware of its own), and professes to be governed by constitutional order, pragmatism, and compromise.

A noninterventionist policy would shun ideology and emphasize pragmatic and empirical judgment of the interests and needs of this nation and of others, with reliance on diplomacy and analytical intelligence, giving particular attention to history, since nearly all serious problems between nations are recurrent or have important recurrent elements in them. The current crises in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine-Israel, and Iran are all colonial or postcolonial in nature, which is generally ignored in American political and press discussion.

Such a noninterventionist policy would rely primarily on trade and the market, rather than territorial control or military intimidation, to provide the resources and energy the United States needs. Political and diplomatic action would be the primary and essential instruments of international relations and persuasion; military action the last and worst one, evidence of political failure. Military deployments abroad would be reexamined with particular attention to whether they might actually be impediments to solutions of the conflicts of clients, or reinforce intransigence in the complex dynamics of relations among nations such as the two Koreas, China, Taiwan, and Japan, where lasting solutions can only be found in political settlements between principals.
Finally, here's a comment about how whatever "exceptionalism" the US may have benefitted from, it hasn't been enough to save us from one of the perennial hazards of faulty leadership. From What is Bush and Cheney's Game vis-à-vis Iran? by Jeffrey Kimball History News Network 01/29/07:

How the mind of an individual occupying the office of the presidency works is, to say the least, noteworthy, because of the enormous power he (or she) can wield. How this mind works is even more significant when the president’s personality is highly unusual. George W. Bush's personality - as well as that of his vice-president—falls into this category. Bush and Cheney's slant on the nature of the world and foreign and military affairs issufficiently idiosyncratic to make a difference in the calculus of foreign policy, adding an unpredictable, chaotic element to the standard formulas for war and diplomacy. The United States is not so exceptional that it has been immunized from the tragedies brought on by seriously flawed leaders throughout history who willfully, incompetently, or irrationally engaged in reckless threat-making. (my emphasis)
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