America First, globalism, international institutions, internationalism, Joe Biden, John Kerry, Joseph S. Nye, multilaterism, nation-building, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, Project-Syndicate.org, sovereignty, Trump
One of life’s great pleasures is seeing views you’ve held for decades validated by your intellectual or ideological or political opponents. And there’s a special gratification in seeing them validated unwittingly (though nothing beats outright admissions of error).
So imagine how I’m feeling today having just learned that two of America’s leading globalists have just made clear (except to themselves) that the foreign policy approaches they’ve championed for decades are, in one case, only loosely at best related to the nation’s security and prosperity and, in the other, almost suicidally moronic.
The globalist who now apparently believes that globalism is unnecessary – along with, by implication, all the costs and risks it imposes on the United States – is Harvard University political scientist and former top U.S. national security official (under Democratic presidents) Joseph S. Nye, Jr.
In an essay published yesterday on the Project Syndicate website, Nye focused on explaining why American foreign policy can never escape and should never seek to avoid efforts to advance moral objectives. I disagree – but that’s another debate. What was most intriguing to me was a central argument used to advance his case: “Some foreign policy issues relate to a nation-state’s survival, but most do not. Since World War II, the United States, for example, has been involved in several wars, but none were necessary for its survival.”
This claim may seem to be nothing more than the essence of common sense (it is). But it also happens to clash violently with the core assumption of globalism (which in the pre-Trump years was called “internationalism”). As I originally wrote here, this assumption holds that America’s security, independence, and prosperity are so completely inseparable from the security, independence, and prosperity of literally every corner of the globe that the country literally has no choice but to anchor its foreign policy to the goal of creating a world so free of security, economic, and social challenges that threats to the United States will never arise in the first place.
Subsequently, I’ve contended that, however true this argument may or may not be for other countries, it is uniquely inapplicable to the United States, due to its towering degree of geopolitical security and its equally formidable potential for economic self-sufficiency.
Leave aside for the moment the issue of whether I’m right or wrong. Nye’s acknowledgment that none – i.e., not a single one – of the (often frightfully costly) wars fought by the United States in the last seven decades was a war of necessity signals loudly and clearly that Nye (at least now) agrees with me. And if these conflicts were in fact wars of choice, then logically the various globalist policies they were intended to advance or reinforce in the name of creating that threat-free world need to be seen as optional as well – ranging from prioritizing the maintenance of international alliances and institutions to the extension of foreign aid and involvement in nation-building.
Not that their optionality means that they should always or even often be opposed. But it does mean that Americans – and especially the globalist elites that have controlled and dominated the way Americans discuss foreign policy (at least in systematic ways) – need to pay more attention to alternative approaches for achieving and maintaining adequate levels of security, independence, and prosperity. As a result, the types of America First impulses displayed by President Trump and articulated more completely by some of his like-minded compatriots (including yours truly) need to be examined carefully, not ruled out of hand with pejoratives like “isolationism” or “bullying.”
The second globalist to have made my day today is former U.S. Senator John Kerry, who of course also won the Democratic nomination for President in 2004 and then went on to serve as Secretary of State in Barack Obama’s administration.
Kerry has been campaigning for his Obama era colleague Joe Biden’s bid to win the White House this year, and this morning was shown on CNBC making the following statement while touting the former Vice President’s qualifications for the Oval Office: “He [Biden] is completely committed to the notion that before you send American troops into harm’s way, before you ask families to risk the lives of their loved ones, you owe it to everybody in the world to exhaust the capacity for diplomacy. This President has not done that.”
It’s one thing of course to support caution in using America’s military overseas. No sensible person of good will could object. But such decisions should be made with “everybody in the world” in mind? Seriously? Even national populations with absolutely no stake in the outcome? Even the population of the country being targeted? Even its leaders? Even the allies of those leaders, like Vladimir Putin? Come to think of it, what did Franklin Roosevelt owe Adolf Hitler before he declared war on Germany in 1941, beating the Nazis to that punch. Talk about a formula for endless inaction and outright paralysis – however urgent the circumstances or imminent the threat. I really try avoiding use of the word “stupid,” but if the shoe fits….
Moreover, Kerry wasn’t simply having a bad day here. He expressed almost identical views during his 2004 presidential run when he insisted that American decisions to go to war must be submitted to a “global test” of legitimacy. It’s like he either doesn’t know that the United States is a fully sovereign country, which means that according to any framework you care to use (utilitarian, legal, ethical) it is completely and unreservedly entitled to decide for itself whether its own actual or even perceived interests justify this step – or he doesn’t believe it.
I’m going with the latter answer, especially given globalism’s bottom line about the supremacy of multilateralism, – i.e., about creating, reserving, and continually strengthening international institutions as the only conceivable way to achieve that benign global environment they seek.
But my swelling head aside, let’s not forget the most important silver lining to this post. For decades, Nye and Kerry have done more than their share to push the United States into endless globalist wars, to assume needless nuclear attack risk (through the tripwire forces deployed to defend wealthy, free-riding U.S. allies), to waste massive resources on nation-building fool’s quests, and to undercut its precious sovereignty for the sake of utopian global governance dreams.
In the last 24 hours, though, they’ve strengthened the case – however unintentionally – for avoiding these blunders going forward. And I’m certainly more than happy to say “Thanks!” instead of “I told you so.”