Friday, December 31, 2021

TIL: My Mistakes in Foreign Policy

I'm not in position to set foreign policy for the U.S. Government. More and more I'm thinking that's a good thing. Because a couple of my notions about wise foreign policy have proven to be, how do I put this, disasters for America and the world. Live and learn, amiright?

Anne Applebaum is a staff writer for "The Atlantic" and a Pulitzer-prize winning historian. In her recent cover story, "The Bad Guys are Winning", she explains why. "If the 20th century was the story of slow, uneven progress toward the victory of liberal democracy over other ideologies—communism, fascism, virulent nationalism—the 21st century is, so far, a story of the reverse."


My notions are bound up in those heady dreams of the late 20th century. When the Soviet Union and international communism collapsed, I bought into the prevailing wisdom of George H.W. Bush's New World Order, the hoped for period of Great Power cooperation he tried to bring about.

The other notion that I bought into was Thomas Friedman's 1990s concept of globalization. In his theory, as global supply chains became more tightly integrated, world peace would follow. This grew out of the "Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention", which was based on the claim that "No two countries that both had McDonald's had fought a war against each other since each got its McDonald's."

We know how both those notions turned out. Not as envisioned.

Among modern autocrats are people who call themselves communists, nationalists, and theocrats. No one country leads this group. Washington likes to talk about Chinese influence, but what really bonds the members of this club is a common desire to preserve and enhance their personal power and wealth. Unlike military or political alliances from other times and places, the members of this group don’t operate like a bloc, but rather like an agglomeration of companies—call it Autocracy Inc.
Source: The Atlantic.

Instead of the fall of communism and globalization having a democratizing effect on Russia and China, the opposite happened. The Wild West investment opportunities in Russia and China corrupted American capitalism, and with it, its captured system of government as well. Applebaum asks, "How have modern autocrats achieved such impunity? In part by persuading so many other people in so many other countries to play along."

The list of major American corporations caught in tangled webs of personal, financial, and business links to China, Russia, and other autocracies is very long. During the heavily manipulated and deliberately confusing Russian elections in September 2021, both Apple and Google removed apps that had been designed to help Russian voters decide which opposition candidates to select, after Russian authorities threatened to prosecute the companies’ local employees.
Source: The Atlantic.

And it's not just American corporations. The American government played along, too.

In 2008, Trump Jr. had told a business conference that "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets," and in 2016, Russia’s long-term investment in the Trump business empire paid off. In the Trump family, the Kremlin had something better than spies: cynical, nihilistic, indebted, long-term allies.
...
In 2008, the Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev paid Trump $95 million—more than twice what Trump had paid just four years earlier— or a house in Palm Beach no one else seemed to want; in 2012, Trump put his name on a building in Baku, Azerbaijan, owned by a company with apparent links to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. Trump feels perfectly at home in Autocracy Inc., and he accelerated the erosion of the rules and norms that has allowed it to take root in America.
Source: The Atlantic.

It's not just the American Right that failed us. The American Left is failing us as well. Here's another of my own notions that, taken to an extreme, has more potential downside than upside.

At the same time, a part of the American left has abandoned the idea that "democracy" belongs at the heart of U.S. foreign policy—not out of greed and cynicism but out of a loss of faith in democracy at home. Convinced that the history of America is the history of genocide, slavery, exploitation, and not much else, they don’t see the value of making common cause with [...] ordinary people around the world forced into politics by their experience of profound injustice. Focused on America’s own bitter problems, they no longer believe America has anything to offer the rest of the world.
Source: The Atlantic.

My optimism in the 1990s that free markets would lead to a wave of democracy spreading across the globe was bitterly dashed. Instead it was the Free World that was changed. It's as if Lenin's prophecy ("When time comes to hang the Capitalists, the Capitalists themselves will sell the rope for that.") came true, but only after Lenin's ideological Soviet state was replaced by Autocracy Inc. I can't go back and rewrite history, but if I could I would look to advocate for the another foreign policy than I did the first time.

On that pessimistic note, Happy New Year!

1 comment:

Jeffrey Levine said...

Through the Past Darkly
Manhattan Transfer-Wanted Dead or Alive

This post reminded me of a song from The Manhattan Transfer, from their album "Mecca for Moderns" [click the link to listen!], released in 1981, chortling over the various dictators and authoritarians who were overthrown just in a single year... 1979. The politics of all these situations was complex, but the lyric reflected the giddy optimism of the time that tyrannical regimes were on the way out.

Some of these coups had a "happy ending". Others have been not so great. But the saddest part is that, as Anne Applebaum has correctly observed, and you (Mark Steger) have agreed, we're presently seeing a retreat from representative democracy even in long-established (apparently) stable governments like the United States. So, for what it's worth, here are the lyrics, along with my annotations as to "Who's Who":

(Wanted) Dead or Alive
Song by The Manhattan Transfer
Manhattan Transfer-Wanted Dead or Alive

The rule of the tyrants decline
The year, 1979
From Uganda to Nicaragua
It's bombs and bullets all the time
So they corrupt, so they vile
So it's coup after coup all the while
Human rights they violate
They think they too damn great
So in disgrace now they live in exile

Gairy is a wanted man [Eric Gairy, ousted in coup, March 13, 1979]
Idi Amin is a wanted man [Idi Amin, brutal despot, Uganda, ousted April 11, 1979]
Shah of Iran tried so hard to survive [Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, ousted Feb. 11, 1979]
He too was wanted dead or alive

Strikes, demonstrations & wars
Injustice is always the cause
Politicians turn too soon from
Poor people into tycoons
Corruption must bring harass
South African Vorster resign in disgrace [B. J." Vorster, Pres. S. Africa, resigned 1979]
Muzurewa take away Ian Smith place [Ian Smith, apartheid Prime Minister until May, 1979]
The Uganda Devil was easily cat straddled
Beaten up and chased, what a waste.

Gairy is a wanted man
Bokassa is a wanted man [Jean-B├ędel Bokassa, Emperor of Central African Republic until Sept., 1979]
Ali Bhutto try so hard to survive [Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, political leader, Pakistan, executed Apr. 4, 1979]
He too was wanted dead or alive.

The shah had a short time to live
Because the Ayatollah don't forgive
When you see church ruling state
With pure vengeance and hate
Situation must be explosive

[I don't get their point here. The Shah was opposed in part because of his secularization of Iranian government and culture, including exiling Ayatollah Khomeini to France.]

General Somoza from Nicaragua [Anastasio Somoza Debayle, Pres. Nicaragua, deposed July 19, 1979]
Thought it was easy with the Sandanistas
With the help of Venezuela, Panama and Cuba
They kick him straight to America

Gairy is a wanted man
Park Chung Hee was a wanted man [Military strongman, South Korea, assassinated 26 Oct. 1979]
Achem Pong tried so hard to survive [I.K. Acheampong, Ghana, executed June 16, 1979]
He too was wanted dead or alive

Gairy is a wanted man
Idi Amin is a wanted man
Shah of Iran tried so hard to survive
He too was wanted dead or alive

Bang...you're dead