Afghanistan, Biden, Blob, Bloomberg.com, CNN.com, Europe, geography, globalism, Jeremy Shapiro, Luke McGee, Mainstream Media, Marc Champion, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, Robert D. Kaplan, The Economist
I’m thrilled to report that I may have jumped the gun in my post last Wednesday in scoffing at the possibility of President Biden’s botched Afghanistan withdrawal – and the broader U.S. failure in that Forever War – would resulting in any major changes in America’s needlessly risky and costly globalist approach to foreign policy.
I’m not saying that the two-decade Afghanistan fiasco and its humiliating final chapter will spur a search for real alternatives in the foreseeable future, or even that significant new strategies will ever be put into effect – at least not without a much bigger disaster reflecting the same kinds of mistakes. But it’s nonetheless remarkable not only that any unconventional idea has appeared – especially given the determination of the strongly globalist Mainstream Media to suppress them – but that the one that has surfaced challenges the root assumption of globalism.
Specifically, some establishment voices are, inchoately to be sure, pointing out that for all the worries understandably expressed by Americans about new threats to their security appearing in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, Europe faces much greater threats. The reason, moreover, is that it’s located much closer to Afghanistan than the United States.
In other words, geography counts, and America’s position halfway around the world from this troubled region and its utterly dysfunctional Middle East neighborhood, and separated from them and from its leading adversaries by wide oceans, is a leading contributor to its security that creates options enjoyed by no other major power.
Further, by implication – given that these points are being made in the context of the United States concluding that a Taliban victory in Afghanistan is acceptable after all – one of the most important of these options when many forms of trouble arise in any number of locales abroad is simple non-involvement.
The importance of America’s unique geography and its advantages may seem screamingly obvious. But as I’ve explained in detail (see, e.g., here and here), it has not only been ignored by generations of globalist American leaders and thinkers literally since Pearl Harbor. It’s been actively rejected.
Instead, the prevailing foreign policy conventional wisdom has consistently held that peace and security around the world make up a seamless whole, and that war and aggression and even instability anywhere across the globe are matters of urgent concern to the United States and must be squelched or resisted ASAP lest they mestastasize and directly endanger the American homeland.
Some of these “Geography matters”-type statements have been made by members of America’s most prominent and influential proponents of universal and open-ended foreign policy activism – the so-called Blob. This Washington, D.C.-centered bipartisan agglomeration of globalist former diplomats and Congressional aides, retired military officers, genuine academics, and think tank hacks shapes American diplomacy in two critical ways.
First, it represents the main personnel pool drawn on to staff presidential administrations and House and Senate offices on rotating bases, and also serves as key informal sources of advice for these politicians. In other words, it’s a central portion of what’s often called the “permanent bureaucracy” (and by some, the “Deep State”), whose combination of experience (which of course has unmistakable value), sheer staying power, and skill at projecting an air of authority (which clearly have much less intrinsic value) enables it often to steer policy independent of what elected officials favor – and especially to keep the status quo alive through inertia-reenforcing foot-dragging and even sabotage.
Second, the Blob powerfully influences what so many Americans read, hear, and see about foreign policy by dominating the list of sources used by Mainstream Media journalists (who are predominantly sympatico by virtue of shared elite educations and clubby intertwined social networks) to report and interpret the news. The resulting permeation of reporting and analysis with Blob-y globalist perspectives goes far toward defining for the public which foreign policy ideas are and aren’t legitimate to discuss.
That’s why I was so gobsmacked when Blob mainstay Robert D. Kaplan wrote in the (ardently globalist British magazine) The Economist that
“America is a vast and wealthy continent densely connected by navigable rivers and with an economy of scale, accessible to the main sea lines of communication, yet protected by oceans from the turmoil of the Old World.
“And that geography still matters, despite technology having shrunk the globe….”
As a result, Kaplan added that “geography helps explain why America can miscalculate and fail in successive wars, yet completely recover, unlike smaller and less well-situated countries which have little margin for error.” Moreover, logically speaking (and these are my views, not Kaplan’s), the very geography-grounded security that enables the United States to recover quickly from (at least most) foreign involvements that produce disastrous consequences means that it was never significantly vulnerable to the perceived threats that led to that involvement to begin with.
Similar opinions have been offered by former senior U.S. official Jeremy Shapiro, who argues that post-Afghanistan, the United States “can and will work effectively with allies, but only when its vital interests are at stake. It sees those interests in the competition with China. Increasingly, however, in places such as central Asia, the Sahel, and perhaps even Europe’s eastern neighbourhood, it does not.”
By contrast, he observed, “Europeans have more direct interests at stake in those places.”
Further, some Mainstream Media journalists have followed suit – providing further evidence that such once utterly heretical notions are now being bandied about in some Blob-y circles.
For example, Bloomberg.com‘s Marc Champion has contended that
“The U.S. left Afghanistan on Tuesday humbled and with few of its goals achieved after 20 years of war. For America’s European allies, the humiliation may just be starting.
“Connected to Afghanistan by land, unlike the U.S., for Europe the return of the Taliban presents more concrete threats. Those include not just terrorism but also mass migration and the heroin trade.”
More vividly, a recent CNN.com post was headlined, “Europe left exposed as Biden walks America away from the world stage.” It seems reasonable to infer that if the headline writer – and his editors – regarded America as exposed, too, they’d have mentioned that danger explicitly. Indeed, correspondent Luke McGee went on to report that “Multiple European officials and diplomats told CNN of their shock at Biden’s assertion that the only US interest in Afghanistan was to neutralize the terrorists who attacked the US in 2001 and prevent further attacks on American soil.
“They now fear the humanitarian and political consequences of mass migration from a country run by militants who’ve historically harbored terrorists and that is connected to mainland Europe by land” – unlike, I’d remind again, the United States.
Again, I’m not saying that an intellectual revolution in U.S. foreign policy is on the horizon. But as suggested above, only a few weeks ago, I couldn’t have imagined seeing so many examples of any of the above in so short a timespan.
On balance, I’m still convinced that the Blob will wind up stamping out such dissent, at least within its own ranks – if only because at the end of the day, so few would be employable in a truly post-globalist America. But many Blob-ers are also savvy enough to recognize a potentially sinking ship. So I feel pretty confident in predicting that the longer lousy headlines and optics keep emanating from Afghanistan, the more of these globalists will start appreciating the virtues of America’s geography.