One of the dangerous directions I’ve seen American foreign policy take since the reign of James Earl Carter is that the use of force and the employment of the US military has gotten way from the Clausewitzian ideal of war as a “continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other means,” and both have been employed to achieve other loftier goals, such as protecting human rights or trying to transform barbarian societies. On a similar note, while I cheered George W. Bush’s Biblical, if you aren’t with us you are against us diktat in regards to nations doing business with terrorist groups, the election of Donald Trump have given rise to a dangerous tendency on the part of the left and of Never Trump people to divide the world into friends and enemies.
This latter is a very new development based on a very ancient impulse. George Washington, looking at the historical and often unreasoning animosity between European kingdoms and empires, left us with this advice:
In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim.
So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.
This advice, I think, was best captured by Lord Palmerston when he said, “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.”
There is good reason to think that this may be creeping back into American foreign policy. My colleague, Sarah Lee, has a review of a Ted Cruz speech at the American Enterprise. He says:
“Some have never met a country they didn’t want to invade. Others have never met a theater they didn’t want to abandon.”
As Sarah says:
Cruz believes it should be a balance between using “crushing military force” in the face of extremely dangerous enemies like Iran and a willingness to use the American bully pulpit, economic sanctions, and vocal condemnations of abject humanitarian abuses rather than American troops to send a message about American principles.
This is a necessary precondition, but I have to admit I think the key to making this work is an interview of Hawaii Representative and alleged presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbord on Morning Joe.
Listen to how MSNBC neocons try to corner Tulsi into a false dichotomy on Syria and she refuses to accept their frame pic.twitter.com/UJHx7ixxZB
— Jack Posobiec 🇺🇸 (@JackPosobiec) February 6, 2019
SCARBOROUGH: I think a lot of Americans would agree with you there, but again, going back to Assad, if Assad is not an enemy, is he an adversary of the United States?
Gabbard: We have to look to who poses a threat to the United States.
SCARBOROUGH: I understand that, but there are a lot of people who don’t pose a direct military threat to the United States who consider themselves to be adversaries of the United States.
GABBARD: That is…
SCARBOROUGH: Vladimir Putin poses…or considers America to be an enemy. We consider Russia to be an adversary. Do you consider Assad to be an adversary of the United States:
GABBARD: When I looks at, whether it’s Syria or Russia or Turkey or China or other countries in the world, I look a their interests and are their interests counter to our interests?
BRZEZINSKI: What would you say he is, to the United States? If you cannot say he’s an adversary or an enemy, what is Assad to the US, what is the word?
GABBARD: You can describe it however you want to describe it. My point is whether it is Syria or any of these other countries, we need to look at how their interests are counter to or aligned with ours.
GABBARD: It’s important to talk about how our military is being used, what it is costing them, what it is costing the American people, and whether or not those missions, those objectives, serve the security of the United States and the American people.
I think that Cruz’s speech, Gabbard’s interview, and President Trump’s statements and actions in Syria and Afghanistan all point to an emerging political consensus in American foreign policy. American interests determine how American troops are used. And while I fail to understand why Gabbard fangirls on Assad…is it that dippy mustache? The greasy hair?…she is totally correct about the folly of labeling nations as enemies and adversaries. And I like the way she boxes Syria and Turkey together. I don’t think Putin sees us as an enemy because I think he’s smarter than that. We should see Russia for what it is, a competitor in some areas and a potential partner in others. If we view them as an enemy than we have the utter stupidity of circumscribing the ability of this or any administration to negotiate and cut deals with Moscow without their patriotism being questioned. I think you see this playing out best with China. We are cooperating with them in some areas, like trade, but we are confronting them militarily in the South China Sea. We can’t control how other nations see us, but we can control how we see other nations and viewing them in a Manichean manner is dangerous, expensive, and stupid. I hope we are moving beyond this visceral response to foreign affairs and learning to define our interests and work to achieve those interests and not reorder the world in our image.