Claremont, by Angelo M. Codevilla, October 18, 2016:
At the 2016 elections our bipartisan foreign policy class is near-unanimous, not so much behind Hillary Clinton nor even against Donald Trump. Rather, it circles its wagons around its own identities, ideas, practices, and, yes, livelihoods. Clinton represents the ruling class’s people and priorities in foreign affairs as in domestic ones, though she seems to care even less about the former’s substance. Trump, a stranger to most of the foreign policy class (though not to its current epitome, Henry Kissinger) has voiced views on foreign affairs that are within the establishment’s variances in substance if not in tone. Chastise and threaten NATO for its lack of contributions? Senate majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-MT) offered an amendment to that effect in 1970. Cozy up to Putin? Hillary Clinton brought him a bright red “reset” button in 2009.
Nevertheless, the foreign policy class does not merely reject Trump; it detests him. Why? Because Trump, in tone even more than substance, expresses the subversive thought that U.S. foreign policy has failed to “put America first,” causing the nation to suffer defeat after defeat. Hence, the entire foreign policy class—in the bureaucracies, think tanks, academe, and the media—are a bunch of losers. Millions of Americans consider these two thoughts to be common sense. But the above-mentioned class takes the first as the root of heresies, and the second as a demagogic insult. Consequently, the 2016 election is not so much about any particular plank in any foreign policy platform. It is about who defines and what constitutes common sense.
Who and what
Why the fuss? Obviously, foreign policy’s formulators and executors are their country’s fiduciaries. Though it follows logically that they should mind no interest before their country’s, nevertheless our foreign policy class’s defining characteristic for a hundred years has been to subsume America’s interest into considerations they deem worthier. The following is our foreign policy class’s common sense, which it hopes the 2016 elections will affirm.
Since Woodrow Wilson, Progressive Democratic and Republican statesmen have confused America’s interest with mankind’s. In practice, they have taken upon themselves the role of mankind’s stewards (or sheriffs, leaders, pillars of order, or whatever) and acted as if, in Wilson’s words, America has “no reason for being” except to “stand for the right of men,” to be “champions of humanity.” Accordingly, a series of statesmen has forsaken war and diplomacy for strictly American ends and with means adequate to achieve them, and adopted foredoomed schemes pursued halfheartedly—Charles Evans Hughes (commitment to China’s integrity and renunciation of the means to uphold it), Franklin Roosevelt (seeking world co-domination with Stalin and the U.N. to banish “ancient evils, ancient ills”), Harry Truman (pursuing peace through no-win war in Korea), Nixon/Kissinger (scuttling Vietnam to help entice the Soviets into a grand detente), George W. Bush (democratizing the Middle East because America can’t be free unless and until the whole world is free).
Instead of Theodore Roosevelt’s maxim “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” these Progressives’ maxim seems to have been: speak grandly while brandishing twigs. The pattern has been consistent: Think global order, make political-military commitments if not in secret then certainly without the American people’s affirmative consent, commit military forces while avoiding declarations of war or specifying how success is to be achieved, and refuse to calibrate American military commitments to what opponents might do to thwart our forces. Then, when the enterprise falls apart, seek scapegoats.
Inexorably, Progressive foreign policy is gravitating in the direction of foreign Progressive forces. For Progressives, the benevolence of “the Arab Street” and even of organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood is an article of faith. From government, the media, and the universities, Progressives indict as racists anyone who imputes responsibility for terrorism to Arabs, Muslims, or Islam. America’s Muslims vote Democrat. Any Progressive president would find it hard to depart from this part of his tribal identity, least of all Hillary Clinton, whose top aide, Huma Abedin, is deeply connected to the Muslim world. The Democratic Party, along with its bench in academe, has identified increasingly with Israel’s enemies as fellow Progressives. Surely and not so slowly, our foreign policy class has acted more and more as if Israel’s refusal to accede to Arab demands were the chief cause of the Middle East’s troubles.
Imagine, then, what effects the intensification of U.S. foreign policy’s trends would produce in the not so distant future. Then, considering how these effects would manifest themselves on America’s streets, ask how the American people are likely to react.
The 2016 election is about whether that pattern should change. How much, if at all, it would change under Trump matters much less than the mere possibility it might change. Trump’s virtue in foreign policy lies in having voiced this simple, vital thought: U.S. foreign policy must put America first, and deliver victories rather than defeats. Whether Trump really believes that, whether he would act on it, or even whether he understands past mistakes, is secondary.