A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
I hate to complain, but, seriously, who’s running American foreign policy these days? Scooby Doo? It’s common knowledge that Hillary is going home in January to run for president, but as lame ducks go, she’s lamer than most. And where is the heir apparent? Nobody’s going to convince me that Susan Rice’s duties at the UN are keeping her from voicing an opinion now and then. I know she prefers a low profile, but how much time does it take to sit there and get insulted? It’s becoming obvious to everybody from Beijing to Benghazi that the ship of state down at the State Department doesn’t have a captain — or a first mate, for that matter.
There was a time when American foreign policy was so successful it was universally hated, kinda like the New York Yankees. It fought a World War, a Cold War, several itty bitty hot ones, managed to keep its friends from killing each other and kept its enemies at bay. Even in the dark days of Henry the K and Barbara Walters, American diplomacy had a purpose and, like it or not, Pax Americana worked. Better hurry, boys, ‘cause that boat’s about to sail.
I realize that there’s a new reality in the world. Omnipotence is not all it’s cracked up to be, and gargantuan power is useless unless you can fake the other guy into thinking you’ll use it. The problem is nobody’s even worried about the bluff anymore. To continue the analogy, America is still sitting there with Aces over Kings, but every penny ante wannabe with Jack high is rushing the table to go “All In.” The rationale is somebody’s going to get an easy pot when the boys and girls from Foggy Bottom fold.
Objectively, I don’t blame the folks from Katphoodistan for challenging American power. After all, what have they got to lose? The only thing Obama’s going to launch these days is his teleprompter. My problem is America is giving away the diplomatic farm. That’s not a good idea. As the United States’ most cautious neighbour, I really don’t want a bunch of international adventurers thinking that Barak isn’t keeping his bayonets sharp. Frankly, anti-Americanism is a low-impact parlour game for the people who believe that without the Great Satan, everybody on earth would suddenly get a rainbow. Me? I’m a little bit less Pollyanna than that. There are bad people in this world, and when push comes to shove, I don’t want to have to prove I can defend myself. I find it quite a bit more to my taste (as most people west of the Vistula do) to sit on the sidelines and rely on the kids from Kansas and Nebraska to stand up and take the hit. And that’s the bigger problem.
Power, real power, is not based on what you do; it’s based on what you’re willing to do. As more and more people think the United States is not willing to do anything to … Oh, I don’t know … make sure a bunch of fascist fundamentalists from the 8th century don’t develop nuclear weapons and turn Tel Aviv into a glow-in-the-dark Mediterranean night light — the more likely it is that somebody’s going to get hurt. America’s indecision and inability to figure out where its national interest lies is inadvertently telling the world it’s in retreat from the international stage. More than a few folks out there are willing to take the risk to fill the void. In fact, every time America steps away from its allies (Britain, Israel, South Korea, Japan — and the list goes on) every time American diplomats fear for their safety; every time some pumped-up potentate gets a mixed message about American intentions; those emboldened few lurch us a little closer to somebody doing something stupid. And I’m not even necessarily talking about the bad guys! When that happens, as history has shown us, a whole lot of people are going to have to clean up the mess.
America needs to remember that deterrent is not action. (That’s after the fact.) Deterrent is reputation and without a reputation, there is no deterrent.