Since the French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville came out in 1835 with his classic Democracy in America, insightful foreign analysts have used their outsiders’ perspective to help Americans themselves learn much about their own country.
The Financial Times‘ new editorial about the Never Trump-y globalist approach to foreign policy sure to be taken by a Biden administration continues this tradition – however unwittingly. In the British newspaper’s enthusiasm for a return to a pre-Trump U.S. international strategy, it valuably reminds Americans of how far that globalism has taken these American foreign policy traditionalists from the objectives that should always make up the nation’s overriding priority in world affairs.
The editorial contains the usual mindless paeans to content-free “multilateralism, free trade and an active American role around the world. That is, it regurgitates the idea that America’s best bet for maximal security and prosperity lies in pushing practices and positions that in the end are nothing more than means (in other words, tools, or tactics) that may or may not be useful in the kinds of circumstances that ultimately require countries to conduct foreign policies in the first place – those where a valued objective needs to be achieved.
But what really stands out about the article is its inadvertant acknowledgement that the agenda of the globalist President-elect and his establishmentarian team is not only highly unpopular with the public, but rightly so.
It’s become standard operating procedure for foreign policy professionals and self-appointed thought leaders to bemoan Everyday Americans’ reluctance to recognize the importance of globalism’s devotion to (quoting from the editorial) “restoring US leadership,” playing “global policeman,” and the like, and here the Financial Times writers don’t disappoint.
Much more unusual is their acknowledgement that there exists a “perceived disconnect between the Washington view of US interests and middle America’s more immediate concerns for its physical and economic security.”
A longtime hallmark of globalism has been to equate the two – and insist, in fact, that preserving that physical and economic security simply isn’t possible without globalism’s characteristic energetic international engagement in every dimension imaginable.
To be sure, the editorial’s use of the word “perceived” signals its belief that any such disconnect exists only in the minds of the uninformed or the shortsighted. But its use of the phrase “more immediate” inadvertantly indicates that the disconnect has a basis in reality. For although this wording doesn’t flatly deny the linkage, it carries the suggestion that the nation’s physical and economic security can be achieved to a significant, and even for the time being, an adequate extent without assuming all of globalism’s labors.
Globalists can still (and no doubt will) maintain that, even if true, this minimalist version of success can’t last indefinitely without completing more ambitious tasks – specifically, eliminating the very sources of threats to that American physical and economic security. To which critics of globalism can and should reply that this challenge is so formidable, and therefore costly and risky, that its pursuit risks turning the utopian into an enemy of the good.
Further, given how cloudy the personal crystal balls of even the most brilliant globalists undoubtedly are, and therefore how unpredictable many future challenges and opportunities will inevitably be, a more modest strategy of coping, reacting, muddling through, and avoiding “stupid stuff” (an unusually sound bit of non-globalist advice from globalist former President Barack Obama) logically makes the most sense – and doubly so for a country like the United States that’s already blessed with the kinds of strengths and advantages that can enable a low-risk, low-reward foreign policy to deliver results that are eminently acceptable, especially compared with many of the alternatives.
A final theoretical reason to pursue globalist foreign policies might be called the spiritual case – condemning the low-risk, low-reward alternative as utterly uninspiring. This supposedly lackluster nature matters crucially because, as explained in last Monday’s post, so many globalists seek foreign policy careers and push for their characteristic proposals not to help achieve ostensibly mundane aims like ensuring narrow-bore security and prosperity for their country, but out of loftier hopes to prove America’s historical worth by curing various global ills and slaying various global dragons. As a sympathetic author I quoted wrote of the globalist Biden team, they’re “eager to leave their mark on American foreign policy—and the world.”
But as even the Financial Times editorial writers point out, seeking global goals for there is absolutely no domestic political mandate could be a formula for “sparking a counter-reaction” strong enough to return “Trumpism to the White House in four years time.” All Americans have major stakes in hoping that a new administration learns this lesson sooner rather than later.