Grand Strategy

Wednesday, December 22, 2010 6:58 AM

Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago has written a concise critique of American foreign policy for the current issue of The National Interest magazine, entitled «Imperial by Design». It deals primarily with the post Cold War period. It is the cover story and one of the longest pieces ever published in that journal. Professor Stephen Walt of Harvard has taken note of it in his Foreign Policy blog, in an entry entitled «More to read from Mearsheimer». And so has Dr. Flynt Leverett at his excellent website, The Race for Iran. Clearly, this is an important article. Professor Mearsheimer is regarded by many as the pre-eminent "realist" scholar of international relations in the United States.

Using the pen name Germanicus, I wrote the item below for the readers' comments section on Professor Walt's blog...

Grand Strategy

«Imperial by Design» is a great summary and an insightful diagnosis of the misdirection of post Cold War U.S. foreign policy. The essay is approachable/understandable by both the scholar and the general public. It is both a primer and a text on advance strategy. It would be wonderful if it were studied and acted upon by officials in Washington who are nominally in charge of American foreign policy.

Just a few random observations...

(a) With respect to 9/11, the idea proffered by Professor Mearsheimer that "...the United States bore considerable responsibility for the events of that tragic day" is still very much under-appreciated. In fact, the notion is almost a taboo. The proximate cause of the 9/11 attacks was the foreign policies of Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton, specifically the 1991 attack on Iraq, using Saudi Arabia as a base and then staying put there, the subsequent murderous sanctions on Iraq--fully enforced by the Clinton team--and the routine, nonstop pandering to Tel Aviv as embodied in the fraudulent Oslo "peace process" presided over by Bill Clinton for eight years. 

In theory, Bill Clinton came close to solving the Palestine problem, but at the end of the day he found himself up a blind alley, with no exit and no time. It was entirely his own fault. It may well have occurred to him and his wife that if he pushed forward in the closing days of his Presidency, their subsequent careers would have been in deep jeopardy. Instead, he blamed everything on Arafat and washed his hands of the matter, thereby insuring career survivability for this dubious husband and wife tag-team beyond the Presidency. 

(b) Professor Mearsheimer mentions Washington's effort at "social engineering on a grand scale" and the drive to spread democracy in the Middle East. At the same time, he points out that "Washington helps to thwart democracy in countries where it fears the outcome of elections, as in Egypt and Saudi Arabia." So Washington wants to have it both ways. If you discount incompetence for just a second, it seems clear that the drive toward democracy was on the lines of a hoax or an empty catch-phrase, something which sounded good for G.W. to sell to the public. 

After all, if one were genuinely pro-democracy, one would necessarily be pro-Palestinian, and hence for a return of the dispossessed war refugees to Palestine. One would actually be anti-Zionist. The proof of the pudding is what happened when Hamas won the free election (with international observers) in the West Bank and Gaza in 2006. Washington did not stand for it. Washington organized an armed conflict to derail it, at the direction of Tel Aviv and the Neocons. So much for Middle East democracy; it's a throwaway slogan. As for Egypt, thanks to years of suppressing democracy and buying the country's elites, Washington may end up with an Islamist revolution when Mubarak leaves the stage. Beautiful.

(c) Mearsheimer quotes Hillary's speech to the CFR in September, very much following in Madeleine Albright's footsteps:

I think the world is counting on us today as it has in the past. When old adversaries need an honest broker or fundamental freedoms need a champion, people turn to us. When the earth shakes or rivers overflow their banks, when pandemics rage or simmering tensions burst into violence, the world looks to us.... Americans have always risen to the challenges we have faced. . . . It is in our DNA. We do believe there are no limits on what is possible or what can be achieved. . . . For the United States, global leadership is both a responsibility and an unparalleled opportunity.

It is interesting because it is such pap. It is a complete waste of time to pay attention to anything Hillary or Obama say, because it bears no relationship to what they will do or have done. There is nothing but empty rhetoric. The only agenda is the hidden agenda. That is what is real. Everything else is a diversion.

That said, the actual content of Hillary's pronouncement at the CFR is emblematic, a key to the problem. It is part of the fatal grandiosity of Washington as it relates to its foreign policy, going back to Woodrow Wilson. It is this full-blown delusion that the Neocons counted on and used to promote their Israel-first-and-foremost agenda, ramped up in the aftermath of the Cold War. In sum, American hubris. Recall Obama's outlandish and over-the-top Berlin speech of July 24th, 2008. Go back and read it. All the signs were there. Real warning signs. It was embarrassing then. It is more embarrassing now. Indeed, it is downright preposterous.

(d) "Offshore balancing" certainly makes more sense, as a practical matter, than global dominance. Still, we should be wary of the underlining premise. Is “offshore balancing” really just a prescription for global dominance lite? It could be. It sounds like a transfer of the old British Empire “balance of power” policy applied to a post 1945 world. My view is that the British policy in days of yore led the West, indeed all of humanity, down the horrible path to two unnecessary global wars, the last one resulting in 50 million casualties, the first one ending in a world-wide pandemic. 

Here is Professor's Mearsheimer's proposed scenario for the 21st century in a nutshell, frankly set forth: "The United States should concentrate on making sure that no state dominates Northeast Asia, Europe or the Persian Gulf, and that it remains the world’s only regional hegemon. This is the best way to ensure American primacy." There is nothing radical about this pronouncement. It reflects conventional wisdom in Washington. 

But should we really be in the business of thwarting a regional hegemon? Is it even realistic at this point in time? Thwarting a purported hegemon is the basic, unstated premise of Washington's Iran policy and of Iraq before it. Both were/are mistakes. Both adventures have been orchestrated primarily, if not entirely, to advance the self-proclaimed interests of Israel, not the U.S. There is no legitimate reason for the U.S. to be an enemy of either Iraq or Iran, hegemon or no hegemon. 

I say leave those countries alone. We know next to nothing about them. They do not belong to us. It is their country and their region. Not ours. I may hasten to add, it is their religion, not ours. Our region is the Americas, north and south. Our religion is something else. If there is containment to be done, let’s start with our own ego.

I'm simply suggesting that "offshore balancing" could be a ticket to more endless war, meddling and self-defeat. We are already broke and bloated. It is time for a diet. The only advantage the United States enjoys from global dominance now, left over from the victory coming out of the Second World War, is the U.S. Dollar as a reserve currency. Will “offshore balancing” help maintain the U.S. Dollar? It could do just the opposite. 

e) For me, the biggest attraction and achievement of Professor Mearsheimer's piece is that he thoroughly, and yet almost offhandedly, demolishes and disposes of the Neocons. The problem is, even with the Neocons relegated to the ashcan, where they belong, we are still stuck with the Israel Lobby in the saddle--at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. 

The Neocons at bottom are nothing but a front for The Lobby, after all. The Neocons are not a factor in American foreign policy due to the brilliance of their ideas. The Neocons have made a mark in Washington solely because they had the Lobby backing them up with cash and clout, and they knew it. Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have the brilliance. All they lack is the cash and the clout. 



--Copyright 2010 Patrick Foy--