I think a lot of people on both sides of the American political spectrum can agree that the last 16 years have been a foreign policy disaster for the US. Whether it was Bush’s costly Iraq War or Obama’s decision to pull troops out and create vacuum for ISIS to thrive in, leaders on all sides have made some pretty big mistakes and the world is paying the price. Now there a million different factors behind all of the events of the last 16 years that have created the current foreign policy clusterfuck and America did not have control over many of those, so this is not about assigning blame. Rather I want to talk about how the current foreign policy mindset of the majority of modern, industrialized, Western nations is totally fucking failing right now.
There’s been an attitude or maybe atmosphere in of humanitarianism in Western leadership recently, and depending on which part of the West you’re from that atmosphere may have been present for a while now. It’s even seeped into popular culture, with US in particular seeing an explosive increase in pushes for acceptance and equality for other races, cultures, religions and sexual orientations; the bringing of all people onto a level playing field as human beings if you will. And that’s fine, you know it’s not a bad ideal to strive for and if it ever does happen you can color me impressed. However states are not people, people can make just about any effort they want for that ideal with little to no repercussions, states can’t afford to do the same. See the problem with the current humanitarian mindset is that’s its great on paper, it’s very nice and it would work fantastically if the world were stable and at peace. However, you may have noticed the world is not stable nor at peace, which means operating foreign policy with a humanitarian mindset is not so much ahead of of the curve as it is putting the cart before the horse. You can’t build a world wherein everyone from the West is willing to be understanding of all Muslims and visa versa when there are radical Islamic terrorists killing tons of Muslims and Western people alike, you just can’t do it because the violence will continually justify hatred of that other group.
This is why Russia has been kicking the world’s ass on the international stage over the past few years. Putin has been operating under a realist mindset and while that pessimistic view of the world isn’t as nice or ideal as a humanitarian view, right now it’s the one that’s working. Putin has taken Crimea, he’s essentially taken part of Ukraine, he’s bombed any potential US-friendly Syrian rebels (not that those ever likely existed in serious numbers) to dust and kept Assad in power, ensuring that Russia has an ally in the region and as long as ISIS is around Russia will have a reason to continue exerting it’s influence in the Middle East. Now I’m sure some people see that and think what a great humanitarian crime it is, how awful it is both as moral decisions and for the people suffering from those decisions and it is that, but it’s also brilliant statecraft. After a few decades of being the butt of “In Soviet Russia” jokes Russia has stepped and shown itself to be a decisive and involved world power, and it’s getting away with it because the best we seem to be able to do in return in make threats and impose sanctions, maybe, sometimes. That because Putin understands that states aren’t people and you shouldn’t run a state, especially in the foreign policy arena, as if it were human, instead it makes more sense to run it as though you were playing a game, trying to get all the bonuses and odds in your favor. This is what Russia is doing and for as much outcry as the West has for “Putin’s barbarism” do you think Russia gives a shit? Thanks to Putin’s aggressive game plan Russia’s situation has significantly improved over the last couple of years.
See this is the thing, and I know this will sound horrible to some people, states should not give a fuck about people beyond those who interests it is in to protect. Now that is horrible and apathetic, but it’s true. See the bigger something is the less it cares about you, the tiny individual person, and states don’t have to care about anyone of they don’t want to. Now states do care about many people, it’s citizens, leadership, the people of key allied nations, etc. because it is in the state’s interests to care about those people. Now in the humanitarian ideal, a state should care about everyone and do as little harm to anyone as possible. And that’s nice and it would work if our world was full of nice and understanding people and violence was kept to a minimum. Unfortunately the world is much dirtier, hateful and more violent than that so the humanitarian view is not very helpful at this stage of the game. Now look, none of this to say embracing humanitarian projects, aid or anything like isn’t helping, because that is ultimately going to be the foundation for building a global community. But it can be hard for that aid to be effective when say ISIS is running rampant in the region beheading people. So states, they need to be more grim, amoral and realistic in how they view the world and act accordingly. Because as shitty as that sounds it will result in better short term policies and set the foundation for better long term policies.
A lot of liberal, humanitarian types will argue that if we do an evil thing now it will come back to haunt us later. This argument has two problems, one, it doesn’t matter what the consequences might eventually be if the consequences of note doing anything now are bad enough, and two, it’s not necessarily true. We beat the piss out of Nazi Germany and Japan in WWII, we dropped a pair of nukes and killed thousands of soldiers of civilians in both nations and what do we have today, a pair of nations who are pro-US, industrial powerhouses with decent if not great economies who are well positioned to check the advances of potential threats like Russia and China. Where are the evil consequences coming back to haunt us exactly? Contrary to popular liberal belief violence and even certain facets of Imperialism can be used for good. A lot of civilization spread due to violence in the ancient world and even in the modern world we can see civilization spring from violence, conquest and a lot of things many liberals blame the current state of world on. So the question becomes then, if the consequences of violence are vastly overstated, and it has the potential to fix the problem long term and short term, why aren’t we being violent when we have too?
Massive cultural shifts in global politics and organizations like UN is why. See today many Western nations have been repeatedly told to feel bad for the evils of Colonialism and Imperialism and to be progressive and accepting of others now. And that’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with being progressive or admitting that yes terrible things happened during the ages of Colonialism and Imperialism. But it informs our use of violence and how we wage war. In the past when nations warred you usually warred because the aggressor had something to gain like security, land, food, gold, or any other kind of resource. With exception of Russia in recent years we’ve mainly stopped doing that. Some nations like China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Japan will squabble over tiny spits of land to slowly increase their territory but no one’s stolen major tracts of land since Russia, and ISIS, in ages. In the past the spoils of conquest helped pay for the fucking war, which is part of why Iraq was so expensive for the US, we didn’t grab a ton of oil as war reparations. Because the humanitarian nations of the world don’t fight wars like we used, fighting war has become exponentially more expensive and more challenging and it shows in our reluctance to do violence, even when violence is exactly what we need. To reiterate, I’m not advocating using more violence when we don’t need it, I’m saying that when we come across a nation like ISIS, which slaughters millions of innocents, then that’s when we should go in whole hog, bring out the big guns and show how you can use violence for a constructive purpose, because while violence is used break a country, it can also be the foundation for rebuilding it into something better, extra emphasis on the can.
This is the reason Russia is making the US look weak and foolish on the international stage because it’s behaving like a realist state and using violence as basis for expanding it’s resources, territory and influence, it’s using violence as the base upon which to build a better Russia, our own efforts are laughably bad by comparison. Libya is now an ISIS stronghold now that we helped remove Qaddafi, Syria has been plunged into chaos and allowed ISIS to grow because we made efforts to support rebels that likely never existed as we pictured than and probably don’t exist anymore thanks to Russian bombings. We’ve spent trillions and have almost nothing to show for it, Russia’s spent less and has much more to show for it. So we need to change our approach, we need to be more realistic and we have to be prepare to use violence in the pursuit of national interests and use it as smartly as possible.
If I were advising the next President on foreign policy my advice would be as follows:
-As part of our plan to stop ISIS we formally recognize Kurdistan as a nation and give them weapons directly because our current process of handing them through the Iraqi government means they’re more likely to fall into ISIS’s hands than the Kurds’ and the Kurds are doing the best against ISIS on the ground right now. As part of this agreement make a concession to Turkey by requiring that the nation of Kurdistan will only be recognized within the land it controls in what is currently Iraq and Syria and Kurdish parts of Turkey will remain Turkish in perpetuity. Also make it clear to Russia that we will not tolerate Russia bombing the Kurds the way we’ve let them bomb the supposedly good rebels in Syria.
-Support Egypt or another North African nation in eliminating rebels, tell whatever nation you support that they can have Libya, you’ll even bomb it to make way for their invasion, and it’s profitable oil so long as the US gets a base or two in the region, and ideally some oil to help pay for costs. This way you make and empower an ally in the region, destroy a major terrorist hot spot, get local military resources and maybe even some oil to pay for the cost of aid.
-Reaffirm our support for Israel and pledge to attack Iran with extreme prejudice if Iran should ever attack Israel.
-Make similar arrangements to those shown above with nations having terrorist problem or nations neighboring the problem country to eliminate organizations like Boko Haram, Hezbollah, the Taliban, etc. and build local allies in the region.
Because this is how statecraft works, you make alliances with the people you can trust, even if you don’t like them, to maximize the benefits to your own security and resources, and when the people you are fighting against have been defeated, then consider rebuilding that country like we did with Germany and Japan after WWII to make the who region more stable and modern. And sadly in our current, progressive, humanitarian stance on global politics, we will never be good at statecraft unless almost the whole world joins that same viewpoint.