WHAT IS WRONG WITH AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY?

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by Dr. Gennady Shkliarevsky

Dr. Shkliarevsky is Ukrainian-born American and Professor Emeritus of Bard College in Russian history.

American foreign policy has never been particularly tidy.  It has always had its share of inconsistencies, contradictions, and paradoxes.  However, America has never reached a critical point that it faces today.  Its policy is in total chaos that can lead to the disintegration of the entire global liberal order.

Warnings about the impending collapse appear today even in mainstream media sources that are not generally known for being alarmist.  In its recent editorial, symptomatically entitled “The Liberal International Order is Slowly Coming Apart,” The Economist offers a very bleak view of the future.  As the article puts it, “The disintegration of the old order is visible everywhere.”  The institutions that sustained the old order are “either already defunct or fast losing credibility.”  With the collapse of the institutions, there is a strong possibility that “world affairs will descend into their natural state of anarchy that favours banditry and violence.”

The conflict between America and China over Taiwan may erupt into a full-fledged war in the East.  There is an even more likely possibility of a wide-scale war in Europe between the West and Russia.  Their hostile relations over Ukraine may erupt into an outright war.  Although the title of the editorial suggests that the process of disintegration is gradual, it emphasizes that this process can quickly degenerate into a collapse.  The editorial ends on a sour note.  It may seem, the editorial concludes, that the international order “can survive everything that is thrown at it . . . It can’t.”

The fact that American foreign policy appears to be in free fall points to the lack of an adequate organizing principle to shape its course.  This certainly has never been the case in the past when America became involved in international affairs.  Although its foreign policy has certainly had its ups and downs, it has not appeared at any point to be without adequate guidance.

During the early period of American history, its foreign policy pursued the establishment of America’s independence from Great Britain.  For a long time thereafter, American foreign policy was largely isolationist, as it tried to avoid entanglements in foreign blocs and alliances.  The isolationist period lasted until WWII, with a brief interruption during WWI when the United States joined the war on the side of England and France against Germany and its allies.  However, the war was only a respite in America’s isolationism, and America returned to it after WWI.  The Second World War ended America’s isolationism for good.  During and after the war, the United States concluded a series of international agreements and became firmly ensconced in global politics.

The international order that emerged after WWII was essentially a system based on the principle of spheres of influence.  Its reality was very different from the appearance of unity presented by the United Nations Organization.  The world was essentially bipolar; it was divided between the capitalist West (the U.S., West European countries, and their satellites and allies) and the communist East (the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact countries, and their satellites and allies).  Later a bloc of non-allied nations came into existence.  It maneuvered between the two superpowers in pursuit of its own advantages.  Although the bloc played a significant role, it ultimately did not affect the principal division that existed in the world.

The system of spheres of influence lasted until the fall of communism and the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991.  The collapse of communist rule was a cataclysmic event that generated much optimism and hope.  While the United States and the West celebrated their victory, many in their camp believed that this victory would bring a long period of peace and stability that had for a long time escaped human civilization.  Some even prophesied that with the establishment of the liberal political, economic, and social order, world history would finally come to an end, as there would be no more strife, hostilities, wars, and destruction.  This optimism, however, has proven to be short-lived.

As a result of the changes brought by the demise of communism, the United States has emerged as the sole superpower capable of projecting its influence globally.  The U.S. wasted no time in trying to capitalize on the opportunities that the new situation presented.

The American government used the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact to offer the countries of East Central Europe an opportunity to form economic, political, and, ultimately, military ties with the Western bloc.  There were also discussions of the possibility that Russia might also follow suit and become part of the expanded Western alliance.  Russia’s entry into NATO would certainly offer the United States a unique advantage.  The combined power of such an alliance could curtail all potential rivals (China, India, or the Islamic world) that could challenge American hegemony in world affairs.

However, the plans for bringing Russia into NATO fell through.  Although Russia initially welcomed this opportunity, it had to turn it down.  The refusal to grant Russia an equal status in the alliance showed that the United States was unwilling to accept Russia as an equal but only as a junior partner.

In the wake of the failure to incorporate Russia into NATO, the U.S. modified its plans for attaining global hegemony.  It pursued policies designed to weaken Russia and reduce its influence in the region by splintering from it the newly independent states of Eurasia that had formerly been part of the Soviet Union.

The U.S. government supported and helped to foment and orchestrate the so-called “colored revolutions” that took place in Georgia, Armenia, Belarus, Ukraine, the Central Asian states, and other countries in the region.  The goal of these ventures was clear:  to detach these states from Russia and turn them into de-facto American satellites.  The United States also supported opposition groups and movements inside Russia.  The goal of these policies was transparent enough:  to weaken Russia, to reduce its influence in the region, and, if possible, to fragment the country.

The successful realization of these goals would certainly be a big step in America’s bid for world hegemony.  It would make Russia extremely vulnerable and susceptible to America’s pressures.  With Russia effectively neutralized, the United States could meet any other challenges in the world that may come from China, India, or any other potential rival.  The world would effectively become Pax Americana.

Yet these plans also failed.  Russia regained its composure and strength.  It was able to bring the centrifugal tendencies in the region under control and rebuilt its ties with and influence among most of the regional states.  Even the rebellious Georgia finally abandoned its anti-Russian stance.  The only country that the U.S. could still count on in its pursuit of hegemony in the region that would open the path to global hegemony was Ukraine.

Ukraine occupies a very special place in America’s search for hegemony.  It is a large country that borders on Russia.  It also has a history of national extremism that was hostile to Russia and everything Russian.  There are several organizations that represent this anti-Russian extremism.  They include several organizations.  The principal ones are OUN (the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists) and UPA (the Ukrainian Insurgent Army).

These organizations derive their support mostly from western parts of Ukraine.  Their goal has always been to remake the entire Ukraine in their own image.  Their influence grew in the interwar period.  During WWII, these organizations cooperated with the Nazi forces against the Soviet army.  After the end of WWII, they remained active and fought a bloody guerilla war against the Soviet army well into the 1950s, when they were finally subdued.

Following the disintegration of the Soviet Union when Ukraine gained independence, the remnants of the nationalist organizations re-emerged on the political scene in Ukraine.  They sought to establish their dominance in the country.  In pursuit of this goal, they created a variety of venues for spreading their influence and propaganda.

They particularly focused on indoctrinating young Ukrainians into their ideology.  For this purpose, they used local schools, churches, various youth camps (often militarized), and other youth organizations.  They also became extremely active in Ukrainian politics where they sought to eliminate their political opponents who did not support their goals and tried to prevent them from dominating Ukrainian politics.

The defining feature of Ukrainian national extremism is its visceral hatred of Russia and everything Russian.  One of their main goals was, and still is, to eliminate all remaining vestiges of Ukraine’s ties with Russia and its culture.   They renamed streets and removed monuments to prominent Russian and Ukrainian public figures who were known for their ties to Russia.  Their special target is the Russian language that has always been widely used in Ukraine, particularly in its eastern parts.  I

n pursuing their fight against the Russian language, national extremists have successfully sought to ban courses that taught Russian in schools, thinned Russian holdings in public libraries, and closed theaters that have used Russian in their performances.  They also actively pursue policies that try to eliminate the use of Russian by ordinary Ukrainian citizens, particularly in major large metropolitan cities such as Kiev, Kharkov, and others.

Finally, the movement has vowed to carry on its fight against Russia by all possible means, including the use of military force.  They view Russia as the greatest evil in the world and vow to seek its destruction.  Their favorite slogan is “moskaliaku na gilliaku”— “a Moscovite (a derogatory term that Ukrainian nationalists use for Russians) should hang from a tree branch.”

The radicalism of Ukrainian nationalists has fitted into American plans for global hegemony.  The establishment of the domination of Ukrainian national extremism in the country would turn it into an irreconcilable enemy and a permanent threat to Russian security.  One of the principal goals of Ukrainian extremists is to become part of NATO, which, if successful, would make Ukraine and its military major beneficiaries of NATO’s vast military support and funding.

From the American point of view, Ukraine’s membership would strengthen the American position vis-à-vis Russia and would make Russia vulnerable to political pressures from the United States.  This arrangement would bring the U.S. closer to its avowed goal.  It would put the U.S. into a very advantageous position vis-à-vis China and would strengthen America’s bid for global hegemony.

All these plans, however, were put on hold when Russia started its military operations in Ukraine in 2022.  The extremist government in Ukraine was woefully unprepared for this new development.  By all indications, it expected that Western support would bring Russia’s collapse and its disintegration.  The reality has proven to be very different.  Russia came well-prepared for this conflict.

It has a population that is much larger than the population of Ukraine.  It can muster more people in the field than the government of Ukraine can.  Russia’s military-industrial complex is much larger and more productive than the military production of Ukraine; it offers Russian military some very advanced technologies that can successfully operate against weapons supplied by NATO.

The developments in eastern Ukraine over the last year or so clearly show Russia’s military superiority to the forces that stand against them.  They have been able to capture sizable areas of Ukraine and are now conducting military operations that may end up in the capture of Kharkov—the second largest city in Ukraine.  The capture may well be a disaster for Ukraine and its efforts to stop Russia.  It would also be a serious setback to America’s plans for global hegemony.

The preceding overview will help to understand the source of numerous problems that American foreign policy faces today.  The serious mistakes, miscalculations, and contradictions in the U.S. international behavior are no accident.  They are not results of human weaknesses, either.

They indicate a systemic flaw that leads to decisions that have no rational explanations.  For example, one cannot understand the reason why Biden’s administration has blocked military aid to Israel—the country that has been the only and staunchest ally of the United States in the Middle East that fully embodies the values of liberal democracy.

At the same time, Biden’s government offers a generous military aid to the government of national extremists in Ukraine that has very little to do with democracy or liberal values.  One can hypothesize that the reason is an expectation—one that is not supported by any known facts–that somehow nationalist Ukraine will help America subordinate Russia and then everything else would fall into place.

By all indications, currently, Israel does not figure prominently in Biden’s plans.  That is why Biden’s administration can afford to throw Israel under the bus.  This example, among many others, indicates that the organizing principle that guides American foreign policy today is not adequate for effective leadership in international affairs.  This inadequacy is the source of America’s many flawed recent decisions.

To help understand the systemic problem that scuttles American foreign policy, one observation is in order.  Global community of nations is a very complex entity that involves an entangled web of interactions and many differences.  Regulating such complex entity and managing interactions among its constituent parts requires a very powerful system.  The power of a system can only come from the incorporation and integration of the many differences that its constituent parts represent.

The emphasis must be on differences, not commonalities, because differences, not commonalities, offer new possibilities.  Exercising global leadership and regulating complex interactions among many nations requires a very powerful system.  Such a system should include and integrate all differences represented by the member-states, as differences are a source of possibilities.  Only combinations, or multiplication, of differences can give rise to a new level of organization that will be powerful enough to regulate and manage a system of such complexity.

This observation helps us understand the main systemic problem that American foreign policy faces today.  The organizing principle that guides American policy has always been and is its national interests.  These interests, as formulated by political elites, have guided American behavior in international affairs.  The approach used by the U.S. does not involve universal inclusion and equality.  At best, the liberal practice uses selective inclusion, which is a form of exclusion.  This approach is fundamentally exclusionary.  This approach also affects many domestic policies pursued by the liberals.  One example is the policy of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion that excludes white Americans, Asian Americans, and other groups.

Commonalities, not differences, form the foundation of these arrangements.  Yet differences, not commonalities, make it possible to create new and more powerful levels of organization that offer new and more powerful possibilities.  Such a policy based on commonalities can never be the source of global leadership.  It simply does not offer enough possibilities; it lacks sufficient power.  A system that can manage and regulate complex interactions within the global community must rest on inclusion and integration, or multiplication, of all differences that member-states bring into such a global arrangement.

The approach used in American foreign policy is exclusionary.  This policy is exclusionary even in its national context, as it is formulated by political elites that are, by definition, exclusionary.  Thus, the level of organization that sustains American foreign policy is weaker than the level of organization of the global entity over which the United States tries to establish its hegemony.  This discrepancy can only lead to a failure.  The numerous blunders, miscalculations, and outright mistakes are symptoms of this systemic flaw.

Before discussing a possible solution for this problem, a clear statement as to what cannot be part of the solution is in order.  Blaming others will certainly not work.  A solution can come only as a result of a critical and rational examination of one’s own flaws.  Israel, Hamas, Taliban, Russia, and China are not problems; they are symptoms of America’s failures.  War certainly will not work, either.  As the history of human civilization shows, wars can bring only more wars and destruction.  War has never been a solution; it will not be a solution in the current crisis.

Peace is absolutely essential for finding a solution.  Only the cessation of armed conflicts can open possibilities for constructive work in creating and consolidating a new level of organization that will be powerful enough to regulate and manage global affairs.  The level of organization that will be capable of sustaining order on a global scale must be universally inclusive.  It should recognize the equality of all differences.  Only universal inclusion and equality can lead to the emergence of a sufficiently powerful level of organization that can sustain global order.

There are plenty of incentives for pursuing this approach.  Our civilization desperately needs a stable global order.  We need it to end cycles of violence, wars, and destruction.  We need it to protect our environment, develop science and technology, pursue the exploration of space that can bring numerous benefits to humanity, and much, much else.  To attain these goals, we need a new social practice that will be based on universal inclusion and equality and use the process of creating new and increasingly more powerful levels of organization as its main organizing principle.

 


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